Wednesday, October 24, 2007


THE LOST CONTINENT by C. J. Cutliffe Hyne

C. J. Cutliffe Hyne
We were both of us not a little stiff as the result of
sleeping out in the open all that night, for even in Grand Canary
the dew-fall and the comparative chill of darkness are not to be
trifled with. For myself on these occasions I like a bit of a run
as an early refresher. But here on this rough ground in the middle
of the island there were not three yards of level to be found, and
so as Coppinger proceeded to go through some sort of dumb-bell
exercises with a couple of lumps of bristly lava, I followed his
example. Coppinger has done a good deal of roughing it in his
time, but being a doctor of medicine amongst other things--he takes
out a new degree of some sort on an average every other year--he is
great on health theories, and practises them like a religion.
There had been rain two days before, and as there was still a
bit of stream trickling along at the bottom of the barranca, we
went down there and had a wash, and brushed our teeth. Greatest
luxury imaginable, a toothbrush, on this sort of expedition.
"Now," said Coppinger when we had emptied our pockets,
"there's precious little grub left, and it's none the better for
being carried in a local Spanish newspaper."
"Yours is mostly tobacco ashes."
"It'll get worse if we leave it. We've a lot more bad
scrambling ahead of us."
That was obvious. So we sat down beside the stream there at
the bottom of the barranca, and ate up all of what was left. It
was a ten-mile tramp to the fonda at Santa Brigida, where we had
set down our traps; and as Coppinger wanted to take a lot more
photographs and measurements before we left this particular group
of caves, it was likely we should be pretty sharp set before we got
our next meal, and our next taste of the PATRON'S splendid
old country wine. My faith! If only they knew down in the English
hotels in Las Palmas what magnificent wines one could get--with
diplomacy--up in some of the mountain villages, the old vintage
would become a thing of the past in a week.
Now to tell the truth, the two mummies he had gathered already
quite satisfied my small ambition. The goatskins in which they
were sewn up were as brittle as paper, and the poor old things
themselves gave out dust like a puffball whenever they were
touched. But you know what Coppinger is. He thought he'd come
upon traces of an old Guanche university, or sacred college, or
something of that kind, like the one there is on the other side of
the island, and he wouldn't be satisfied till he'd ransacked every
cave in the whole face of the cliff. He'd plenty of stuff left for
the flashlight thing, and twenty-eight more films in his kodak, and
said we might as well get through with the job then as make a
return journey all on purpose. So he took the crowbar, and I
shouldered the rope, and away we went up to the ridge of the cliff,
where we had got such a baking from the sun the day before.
Of course these caves were not easy to come at, or else they
would have been raided years before. Coppinger, who on principle
makes out he knows all about these things, says that in the old
Guanche days they had ladders of goatskin rope which they could
pull up when they were at home, and so keep out undesirable
callers; and as no other plan occurs to me, perhaps he may be
right. Anyway the mouths of the caves were in a more or less level
row thirty feet below the ridge of the cliff, and fifty feet above
the bottom; and Spanish curiosity doesn't go in much where it
cannot walk.
Now laddering such caves from below would have been cumbersome,
but a light knotted rope is easily carried, and though it would
have been hard to climb up this, our plan was to descend on
each cave mouth from above, and then slip down to the foot of
the cliffs, and start again AB INITIO for the next.
Coppinger is plucky enough, and he has a good head on a height,
but there is no getting over the fact that he is portly and
nearer fifty than forty-five. So you can see he must have been
pretty keen. Of course I went first each time, and got into the
cave mouth, and did what I could to help him in; but when you have
to walk down a vertical cliff face fly-fashion, with only a thin
bootlace of a rope for support, it is not much real help the man
below can give, except offer you his best wishes.
I wanted to save him as much as I could, and as the first three
caves I climbed to were small and empty, seeming to be merely
store-places, I asked him to take them for granted, and save
himself the rest. But he insisted on clambering down to each one
in person, and as he decided that one of my granaries was a prison,
and another a pot-making factory, and another a schoolroom for
young priests, he naturally said he hadn't much reliance on my
judgment, and would have to go through the whole lot himself. You
know what these thorough-going archaeologists are for imagination.
But as the day went on, and the sun rose higher, Coppinger began
clearly to have had enough of it, though he was very game, and
insisted on going on much longer than was safe. I must say I
didn't like it. You see the drop was seldom less than eighty feet
from the top of the cliffs. However, at last he was forced to give
it up. I suggested marching off to Santa Brigida forthwith, but he
wouldn't do that. There were three more cave-openings to be looked
into, and if I wouldn't do them for him, he would have to make
another effort to get there himself. He tried to make out he was
conferring a very great favour on me by offering to take a report
solely from my untrained observation, but I flatly refused to look
at it in that light. I was pretty tired also; I was soaked with
perspiration from the heat; my head ached from the violence of the
sun; and my hands were cut raw with the rope.
Coppinger might be tired, but he was still enthusiastic. He
tried to make me enthusiastic also. "Look here," he said, "there's
no knowing what you may find up there, and if you do lay hands on
anything, remember it's your own. I shall have no claim whatever."
"Very kind of you, but I've got no use for any more mummies done
up in goatskin bags."
"Bah! That's not a burial cave up there. Don't you know the
difference yet in the openings? Now, be a good fellow. It doesn't
follow that because we have drawn all the rest blank, you won't
stumble across a good find for yourself up there."
"Oh, very well," I said, as he seemed so set on it; and away I
stumbled over the fallen rocks, and along the ledge, and then
scrambled up by that fissure in the cliff which saved us the
two-mile round which we had had to take at first. I wrenched out
the crowbar, and jammed it down in a new place, and then away I
went over the side, with hands smarting worse at every new grip of
the rope. It was an awkward job swinging into the cave mouth
because the rock above overhung, or else (what came to the same
thing) it had broken away below; but I managed it somehow, although
I landed with an awkward thump on my back, and at the same time I
didn't let go the rope. It wouldn't do to have lost the rope then:
Coppinger couldn't have flicked it into me from where he was below.
Now from the first glance I could see that this cave was of
different structure to the others. They were for the most part
mere dens, rounded out anyhow; this had been faced up with cutting
tools, so that all the angles were clean, and the sides smooth and
flat. The walls inclined inwards to the roof, reminding me of an
architecture I had seen before but could not recollect where, and
moreover there were several rooms connected up with passages. I
was pleased to find that the other cave-openings which Coppinger
wanted me to explore were merely the windows or the doorways of two
of these other rooms.
Of inscriptions or markings on the walls there was not a trace,
though I looked carefully, and except for bats the place was
entirely bare. I lit a cigarette and smoked it through--Coppinger
always thinks one is slurring over work if it is got through too
quickly--and then I went to the entrance where the rope was, and
leaned out, and shouted down my news.
He turned up a very anxious face. "Have you searched it
thoroughly?" he bawled back.
"Of course I have. What do you think I've been doing all this
"No, don't come down yet. Wait a minute. I say, old man, do
wait a minute. I'm making fast the kodak and the flashlight
apparatus on the end of the rope. Pull them up, and just make me
half a dozen exposures, there's a good fellow."
"Oh, all right," I said, and hauled the things up, and got them
inside. The photographs would be absolutely dull and
uninteresting, but that wouldn't matter to Coppinger. He rather
preferred them that way. One has to be careful about halation in
photographing these dark interiors, but there was a sort of ledge
like a seat by the side of each doorway, and so I lodged the camera
on that to get a steady stand, and snapped off the flashlight from
behind and above.
I got pictures of four of the chambers this way, and then came
to one where the ledge was higher and wider. I put down the
camera, wedged it level with scraps of stone, and then sat down
myself to recharge the flashlight machine. But the moment my
weight got on that ledge, there was a sharp crackle, and down I
went half a dozen inches.
Of course I was up again pretty sharply, and snapped up the
kodak just as it was going to slide off to the ground. I will
confess, too, I was feeling pleased. Here at any rate was a
Guanche cupboard of sorts, and as they had taken the trouble to
hermetically seal it with cement, the odds were that it had
something inside worth hiding. At first there was nothing to be
seen but a lot of dust and rubble, so I lit a bit of candle and
cleared this away. Presently, however, I began to find that I was
shelling out something that was not cement. It chipped away, in
regular layers, and when I took it to the daylight I found that
each layer was made up of two parts. One side was shiny staff that
looked like talc, and on this was smeared a coating of dark toffeecoloured
material, that might have been wax. The toffee-coloured
surface was worked over with some kind of pattern.
Now I do not profess to any knowledge on these matters, and as
a consequence took what Coppinger had told me about Guanche habits
and acquirements as more or less true. For instance, he had
repeatedly impressed upon me that this old people could not write,
and having this in my memory, I did not guess that the patterns
scribed through the wax were letters in some obsolete character,
which, if left to myself, probably I should have done. But still
at the same time I came to the conclusion that the stuff was worth
looting, and so set to work quarrying it out with the heel of my
boot and a pocket-knife.
The sheets were all more or less stuck together, and so I did not
go in for separating them farther. They fitted exactly to the
cavity in which they were stored, but by smashing down its front I
was able to get at the foot of them, and then I hacked away through
the bottom layers with the knife till I got the bulk out in one
solid piece. It measured some twenty inches by fifteen, by
fifteen, but it was not so heavy as it looked, and when I had taken
the remaining photographs, I lowered it down to Coppinger on the
end of the rope.
There was nothing more to do in the caves then, so I went down
myself next. The lump of sheets was on the ground, and Coppinger
was on all fours beside it. He was pretty nearly mad with
"What is it?" I asked him.
"I don't know yet. But it is the most valuable find ever made
in the Canary Islands, and it's yours, you unappreciative beggar;
at least what there is left of it. Oh, man, man, you've smashed up
the beginning, and you've smashed up the end of some history that
is probably priceless. It's my own fault. I ought to have known
better than set an untrained man to do important exploring work."
"I should say it's your fault if anything's gone wrong. You
said there was no such thing as writing known to these ancient
Canarios, and I took your word for it. For anything I knew the
stuff might have been something to eat."
"It isn't Guanche work at all," said he testily. "You ought to
have known that from the talc. Great heavens, man, have you no
eyes? Haven't you seen the general formation of the island? Don't
you know there's no talc here?"
"I'm no geologist. Is this imported literature then?"
"Of course. It's Egyptian: that's obvious at a glance. Though
how it's got here I can't tell yet. It isn't stuff you can read
off like a newspaper. The character's a variant on any of those
that have been discovered so far. And as for this waxy stuff
spread over the talc, it's unique. It's some sort of a mineral, I
think: perhaps asphalt. It doesn't scratch up like animal wax.
I'll analyse that later. Why they once invented it, and then let
such a splendid notion drop out of use, is just a marvel. I could
stay gloating over this all day."
"Well," I said, "if it's all the same for you, I'd rather gloat
over a meal. It's a good ten miles hard going to the fonda,
and I'm as hungry as a hawk already. Look here, do you know it is
four o'clock already? It takes longer than you think climbing down
to each of these caves, and then getting up again for the next."
Coppinger spread his coat on the ground, and wrapped the lump
of sheets with tender care, but would not allow it to be tied with
a rope for fear of breaking more of the edges. He insisted on
carrying it himself too, and did so for the larger part of the way
to Santa Brigida, and it was only when he was within an ace of
dropping himself with sheer tiredness that he condescended to let
me take my turn. He was tolerably ungracious about it too. "I
suppose you may as well carry the stuff," he snapped, "seeing that
after all it's your own."
Personally, when we got to the fonda, I had as good a dinner
as was procurable, and a bottle of that old Canary wine, and turned
into bed after a final pipe. Coppinger dined also, but I have
reason to believe he did not sleep much. At any rate I found him
still poring over the find next morning, and looking very heavyeyed,
but brimming with enthusiasm.
"Do you know," he said, "that you've blundered upon the most
valuable historical manuscript that the modern world has ever yet
seen? Of course, with your clumsy way of getting it out, you've
done an infinity of damage. For instance, those top sheets you
shelled away and spoiled, contained probably an absolutely unique
account of the ancient civilisation of Yucatan."
"Where's that, anyway?"
"In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It's all ruins to-day,
but once it was a very prosperous colony of the Atlanteans."
"Never heard of them. Oh yes, I have though. They were the
people Herodotus wrote about, didn't he? But I thought they were
"They were very real, and so was Atlantis, the continent where
they lived, which lay just north of the Canaries here."
"What's that crocodile sort of thing with wings drawn in the
"Some sort of beast that lived in those bygone days. The pages
are full of them. That's a cave-tiger. And that's some sort
of colossal bat. Thank goodness he had the sense to illustrate
fully, the man who wrote this, or we should never have been able to
reconstruct the tale, or at any rate we could not have understood
half of it. Whole species have died out since this was written,
just as a whole continent has been swept away and three
civilisations quenched. The worst of it is, it was written by a
highly-educated man who somewhat naturally writes a very bad fist.
I've hammered at it all the night through, and have only managed to
make out a few sentences here and there"--he rubbed his hands
appreciatively. "It will take me a year's hard work to translate
this properly."
"Every man to his taste. I'm afraid my interest in the thing
wouldn't last as long as that. But how did it get there? Did your
ancient Egyptian come to Grand Canary for the good of his lungs,
and write it because he felt dull up in that cave?"
"I made a mistake there. The author was not an Egyptian. It
was the similarity of the inscribed character which misled me. The
book was written by one Deucalion, who seems to have been a priest
or general--or perhaps both--and he was an Atlantean. How it got
there, I don't know yet. Probably that was told in the last few
pages, which a certain vandal smashed up with his pocketknife, in
getting them away from the place where they were stowed."
"That's right, abuse me. Deucalion you say? There was a
Deucalion in the Greek mythology. He was one of the two who
escaped from the Flood: their Noah, in fact."
"The swamping of the continent of Atlantis might very well
correspond to the Flood."
"Is there a Pyrrha then? She was Deucalion's wife."
"I haven't come across her yet. But there's a Phorenice, who
may be the same. She seems to have been the reigning Empress, as
far as I can make out at present."
I looked with interest at illustrations in the margin. They
were quite understandable, although the perspective was all wrong.
"Weird beasts they seem to have had knocking about the country in
those days. Whacking big size too, if one may judge. By Jove,
that'll be a cave-tiger trying to puff down a mammoth. I shouldn't
care to have lived in those days."
"Probably they had some way of fighting the creatures.
However, that will show itself as I get along with the
translation." He looked at his watch--"I suppose I ought to be
ashamed of myself, but I haven't been to bed. Are you going out?"
"I shall drive back to Las Palmas. I promised a man to have a
round at golf this afternoon."
"Very well, see you at dinner. I hope they've sent back my dress
shirts from the wash. O, lord! I am sleepy."
I left him going up to bed, and went outside and ordered a
carriage to take me down, and there I may say we parted for a
considerable time. A cable was waiting for me in the hotel at Las
Palmas to go home for business forthwith, and there was a Liverpool
boat in the harbour which I just managed to catch as she was
steaming out. It was a close thing, and the boatmen made a small
fortune out of my hurry.
Now Coppinger was only an hotel acquaintance, and as I was up to
the eyes in work when I got back to England, I'm afraid I didn't
think very much more about him at the time. One doesn't with
people one just meets casually abroad like that. And it must have
been at least a year later that I saw by a paragraph in one of the
papers, that he had given the lump of sheets to the British Museum,
and that the estimated worth of them was ten thousand pounds at the
lowest valuation.
Well, this was a bit of revelation, and as he had so repeatedly
impressed on me that the things were mine by right of discovery,
I wrote rather a pointed note to him mentioning that he seemed to
have been making rather free with my property. Promptly came
back a stilted letter beginning, "Doctor Coppinger regrets" and so
on, and with it the English translation of the wax-upon-talc
MSS. He "quite admitted" my claim, and "trusted that the profits
of publication would be a sufficient reimbursement for any damage
Now I had no idea that he would take me unpleasantly like this,
and wrote back a pretty warm reply to that effect; but the only
answer I got to this was through a firm of solicitors, who stated
that all further communications with Dr. Coppinger must be made
through them.
I will say here publicly that I regret the line he has taken
over the matter; but as the affair has gone so far, I am disposed
to follow out his proposition. Accordingly the old history is here
printed; the credit (and the responsibility) of the translation
rests with Dr. Coppinger; and whatever revenue accrues from
readers, goes to the finder of the original talc-upon-wax sheets,
If there is a further alteration in this arrangement, it will
be announced publicly at a later date. But at present this appears
to be most unlikely.
The public official reception was over. The sentence had been
read, the name of Phorenice, the Empress, adored, and the new
Viceroy installed with all that vast and ponderous ceremonial which
had gained its pomp and majesty from the ages. Formally, I had
delivered up the reins of my government; formally, Tatho had seated
himself on the snake-throne, and had put over his neck the chain of
gems which symbolised the supreme office; and then, whilst the
drums and the trumpets made their proclamation of clamour, he had
risen to his feet, for his first state progress round that gilded
council chamber as Viceroy of the Province of Yucatan.
With folded arms and bended head, I followed him between the
glittering lines of soldiers, and the brilliant throng of
courtiers, and chiefs, and statesmen. The roof-beams quivered to
the cries of "Long Live Tatho!" "Flourish the Empress!" which came
forth as in duty bound, and the new ruler acknowledged the welcome
with stately inclinations of the head. In turn he went to the
three lesser thrones of the lesser governors--in the East, the
North, and the South, and received homage from each as the ritual
was; and I, the man whom his coming had deposed, followed with the
prescribed meekness in his train.
It was a hard task, but we who hold the higher offices learn
to carry before the people a passionless face. Once, twenty years
before, these same fine obeisances had been made to me; now the
Gods had seen fit to make fortune change. But as I walked bent and
humbly on behind the heels of Tatho, though etiquette forbade noisy
salutations to myself, it could not inhibit kindly glances, and
these came from every soldier, every courtier, and every chief who
stood there in that gilded hall, and they fell upon me very
gratefully. It is not often the fallen meet such tender looks.
The form goes, handed down from immemorial custom, that on
these great ceremonial days of changing a ruler, those of the
people being present may bring forward petitions and requests; may
make accusations against their retiring head with sure immunity
from his vengeance; or may state their own private theories for the
better government of the State in the future. I think it may be
pardoned to my vanity if I record that not a voice was raised
against me, or against any of the items of my twenty years of rule.
Nor did any speak out for alterations in the future. Yes, even
though we made the circuit for the three prescribed times, all
present showed their approval in generous silence.
Then, one behind the other, the new Viceroy and the old, we
marched with formal step over golden tiles of that council hall
beneath the pyramid, and the great officers of state left their
stations and joined in our train; and at the farther wall we came
to the door of those private chambers which an hour ago had been
mine own.
Ah, well! I had no home now in any of those wondrous cities
of Yucatan, and I could not help feeling a bitterness, though in
sooth I should have been thankful enough to return to the Continent
of Atlantis with my head still in its proper station.
Tatho gave his formal summons of "Open ye to the Viceroy,"
which the ritual commands, and the slaves within sent the massive
stone valves of the door gaping wide. Tatho entered, I at his
heels; the others halted, sending valedictions from the threshold;
and the valves of the door clanged on the lock behind us. We
passed on to the chamber beyond, and then, when for the first time
we were alone together, and the forced etiquette of courts was
behind us, the new Viceroy turned with meekly folded arms, and
bowed low before me.
"Deucalion," he said, "believe me that I have not sought this
office. It was thrust upon me. Had I not accepted, my head would
have paid forfeit, and another man--your enemy--would have been
sent out as viceroy in your place. The Empress does not permit
that her will shall ever be questioned."
"My friend," I made answer, "my brother in all but blood,
there is no man living in all Atlantis or her territories to whom
I had liefer hand over my government. For twenty years now have I
ruled this country of Yucatan, and Mexico beyond, first under the
old King, and then as minister to this new Empress. I know my
colony like a book. I am intimate with all her wonderful cities,
with their palaces, their pyramids, and their people. I have
hunted the beasts and the savages in the forests. I have built
roads, and made the rivers so that they will carry shipping. I
have fostered the arts and crafts like a merchant; I have
discoursed, three times each day, the cult of the Gods with mine
own lips. Through evil years and through good have I ruled here,
striving only for the prosperity of the land and the strengthening
of Atlantis, and I have grown to love the peoples like a father.
To you I bequeath them, Tatho, with tender supplications for their
"It is not I that can carry on Deucalion's work with Deucalion's
power, but rest content, my friend, that I shall do my humble
best to follow exactly on in your footsteps. Believe me, I came
out to this government with a thousand regrets, but I would have
died sooner than take your place had I known how vigorously the
supplanting would trouble you."
"We are alone here," I said, "away from the formalities of formal
assemblies, and a man may give vent to his natural self without
fear of tarnishing a ceremony. Your coming was something of the
suddenest. Till an hour ago, when you demanded audience, I had
thought to rule on longer; and even now I do not know for what
cause I am deposed."
"The proclamation said: 'We relieve our well-beloved Deucalion
of his present service, because we have great need of his powers at
home in our kingdom of Atlantis.'"
"A mere formality."
Tatho looked uneasily round the hangings of the chamber, and
drew me with him to its centre, and lowered his voice.
"I do not think so," he whispered. "I believe she has need of
you. There are troublous times on hand, and Phorenice wants the
ablest men in the kingdom ready to her call."
"You may speak openly," I said, "and without fear of
eavesdroppers. We are in the heart of the pyramid here, built in
every way by a man's length of solid stone. Myself, I oversaw the
laying of every course. And besides, here in Yucatan, we have not
the niceties of your old world diplomacy, and do not listen,
because we count it shame to do so."
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "I acted only according to mine
education. At home, a loose tongue makes a loose head, and there
are those whose trade it is to carry tales. Still, what I say is
this: The throne shakes, and Phorenice sees the need of sturdy
props. So she has sent this proclamation."
"But why come to me? It is twenty years since I sailed to
this colony, and from that day I have not returned to Atlantis
once. I know little of the old country's politics. What small
parcel of news drifts out to us across the ocean, reads with
slender interest here. Yucatan is another world, my dear Tatho, as
you in the course of your government will learn, with new
interests, new people, new everything. To us here, Atlantis is
only a figment, a shadow, far away across the waters. It is for
this new world of Yucatan that I have striven through all these
"If Deucalion has small time to spare from his government for
brooding over his fatherland, Atlantis, at least, has found leisure
to admire the deeds of her brilliant son. Why, sir, over yonder at
home, your name carries magic with it. When you and I were lads
together, it was the custom in the colleges to teach that the men
of the past were the greatest this world has ever seen; but to-day
this teaching is changed. It is Deucalion who is held up as the
model and example. Mothers name their sons Deucalion, as the most
valuable birth-gift they can make. Deucalion is a household word.
Indeed, there is only one name that is near to it in familiarity."
"You trouble me," I said, frowning. "I have tried to do my
duty for its own sake, and for the country's sake, not for the
pattings and fondlings of the vulgar. And besides, if there are
names to be in every one's mouth, they should be the names of the
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "The Gods? They occupy us very
little these latter years. With our modern science, we have grown
past the tether of the older Gods, and no new one has appeared.
No, my Lord Deucalion, if it were merely the Gods who were your
competitors on men's lips, your name would be a thousand times the
better known."
"Of mere human names," I said, "the name of this new Empress
should come first in Atlantis, our lord the old King being now
"She certainly would have it so," replied Tatho, and there was
something in his tone which made me see that more was meant behind
the words. I drew him to one of the marble seats, and bent myself
familiarly towards him. "I am speaking," I said, "not to the new
Viceroy of Yucatan, but to my old friend Tatho, a member of the
Priests' Clan, like myself, with whom I worked side by side in a
score of the smaller home governments, in hamlets, in villages, in
smaller towns, in greater towns, as we gained experience in war and
knowledge in the art of ruling people, and so tediously won our
promotion. I am speaking in Tatho's private abode, that was mine
own not two hours since, and I would have an answer with that
plainness which we always then used to one another."
The new Viceroy sighed whimsically. "I almost forget how to
speak in plain words now," he said. "We have grown so polished in
these latter days, that mere bald truth would be hissed as
indelicate. But for the memory of those early years, when we
expended as much law and thought over the ownership of a hay-byre
as we should now over the fate of a rebellious city, I will try and
speak plain to you even now, Deucalion. Tell me, old friend, what
is it?"
"What of this new Empress?"
He frowned. "I might have guessed your subject," he said.
"Then speak upon it. Tell me of all the changes that have
been made. What has this Phorenice done to make her throne
unstable in Atlantis?"
Tatho frowned still. "If I did not know you to be as honest
as our Lord the Sun, your questions would carry mischief with them.
Phorenice has a short way with those who are daring enough to
discuss her policies for other purpose than politely to praise
"You can leave me ignorant if you wish," I said with a touch
of chill. This Tatho seemed to be different from the Tatho I had
known at home, Tatho my workmate, Tatho who had read with me in the
College of Priests, who had run with me in many a furious charge,
who had laboured with me so heavily that the peoples under us might
prosper. But he was quick enough to see my change of tone.
"You force me back to my old self," he said with a half smile,
"though it is hard enough to forget the caution one has learned
during the last twenty years, even when speaking with you. Still,
whatever may have happened to the rest of us, it is clear to see
that you at least have not changed, and, old friend, I am ready to
trust you with my life if you ask it. In fact, you do ask me that
very thing when you tell me to speak all I know of Phorenice."
I nodded. This was more like the old times, when there was
full confidence between us. "The Gods will it now that I return to
Atlantis," I said, "and what happens after that the Gods alone
know. But it would be of service to me if I could land on her
shores with some knowledge of this Phorenice, for at present I am
as ignorant concerning her as some savage from Europe or
"What would you have me tell?"
"Tell all. I know only that she, a woman, reigns, whereby the
ancient law of the land, a man should rule; that she is not even of
the Priestly Clan from which the law says all rulers must be drawn;
and that, from what you say, she has caused the throne to totter.
The throne was as firm as the everlasting hills in the old King's
day, Tatho."
"History has moved with pace since then, and Phorenice has
spurred it. You know her origin?"
"I know only the exact little I have told you."
"She was a swineherd's daughter from the mountains, though
this is never even whispered now, as she has declared herself to be
a daughter of the Gods, with a miraculous birth and upbringing. As
she has decreed it a sacrilege to question this parentage, and has
ordered to be burnt all those that seem to recollect her more
earthly origin, the fable passes current for truth. You see the
faith I put in you, Deucalion, by telling you what you wish to
"There has always been trust between us."
"I know; but this habit of suspicion is hard to cast off, even
with you. However, let me put your good faith between me and the
torture further. Zaemon, you remember, was governor of the
swineherd's province, and Zaemon's wife saw Phorenice and took her
away to adopt and bring up as her own. It is said that the
swineherd and his woman objected; perhaps they did; anyway, I know
they died; and Phorenice was taught the arts and graces, and
brought up as a daughter of the Priestly Clan."
"But still she was an adopted daughter only," I objected.
"The omission of the 'adopted' was her will at an early age,"
said Tatho dryly, "and she learnt early to have her wishes carried
into fact. It was notorious that before she had grown to fifteen
years she ruled not only the women of the household, but Zaemon
also, and the province that was beyond Zaemon."
"Zaemon was learned," I said, "and a devout follower of the
Gods, and searcher into the higher mysteries; but, as a ruler, he
was always a flabby fellow."
"I do not say that opportunities have not come usefully in
Phorenice's way, but she has genius as well. For her to have
raised herself at all from what she was, was remarkable. Not one
woman out of a thousand, placed as she was, would have grown to be
aught higher than a mere wife of some sturdy countryman, who was
sufficiently simple to care nothing for pedigree. But look at
Phorenice: it was her whim to take exercise as a man-at-arms and
practise with all the utensils of war; and then, before any one
quite knows how or why it happened, a rebellion had broken out in
the province, and here was she, a slip of a girl, leading Zaemon's
"Zaemon, when I knew him, was a mere derision in the field."
"Hear me on. Phorenice put down the rebellion in masterly
fashion, and gave the conquered a choice between sword and service.
They fell into her ranks at once, and were faithful to her from
that moment. I tell you, Deucalion, there is a marvellous
fascination about the woman."
"Her present historian seems to have felt it."
"Of course I have. Every one who sees her comes under her
spell. And frankly, I am in love with her also, and look upon my
coming here as detestable exile. Every one near to Phorenice, high
and low, loves her just the same, even though they know it may be
her whim to send them to execution next minute."
Perhaps I let my scorn of this appear.
"You feel contempt for our weakness? You were always a strong
man, Deucalion."
"At any rate you see me still unmarried. I have found no time
to palter with the fripperies of women."
"Ah, but these colonists here are crude and unfascinating.
Wait till you see the ladies of the court, my ascetic."
"It comes to my mind," I said dryly, "that I lived in Atlantis
before I came out here, and at that time I used to see as much of
court life as most men. Yet then, also, I felt no inducement to
Tatho chuckled. "Atlantis has changed so that you would hardly
know the country to-day. A new era has come over everything,
especially over the other sex. Well do I remember the women of
the old King's time, how monstrous uncomely they were, how
little they knew how to walk or carry themselves, how painfully
barbaric was their notion of dress. I dare swear that your ladies
here in Yucatan are not so provincial to-day as ours were then.
But you should see them now at home. They are delicious. And
above all in charm is the Empress. Oh, Deucalion, you shall see
Phorenice in all her glorious beauty and her magnificence one of
these fine days soon, and believe me you will go down on your knees
and repent."
"I may see, and (because you say so) I may alter my life's
ways. The Gods make all things possible. But for the present I
remain as I am, celibate, and not wishful to be otherwise; and so
in the meantime I would hear the continuance of your history."
"It is one long story of success. She deposed Zaemon from his
government in name as well as in fact, and the news was spread, and
the Priestly Clan rose in its wrath. The two neighbouring
governors were bidden join forces, take her captive, and bring her
for execution. Poor men! They tried to obey their orders; they
attacked her surely enough, but in battle she could laugh at them.
She killed both, and made some slaughter amongst their troops; and
to those that remained alive and became her prisoners, she made her
usual offer--the sword or service. Naturally they were not long
over making their choice: to these common people one ruler is much
the same as another: and so again her army was reinforced.
"Three times were bodies of soldiery sent against her, and three
times was she victorious. The last was a final effort. Before,
it had been customary to despise this adventuress who had sprung
up so suddenly. But then the priests began to realise their
peril; to see that the throne itself was in danger; and to know
that if she were to be crushed, they would have to put forth their
utmost. Every man who could carry arms was pressed into the
service. Every known art of war was ordered to be put into
employment. It was the largest army, and the best equipped army
that Atlantis then had ever raised, and the Priestly Clan saw fit
to put in supreme command their general, Tatho."
"You!" I cried.
"Even myself, Deucalion. And mark you, I fought my utmost.
I was not her creature then; and when I set out (because they
wanted to spur me to the uttermost) the High Council of the priests
pointed out my prospects. The King we had known so long, was
ailing and wearily old; he was so wrapped up in the study of the
mysteries, and the joy of closely knowing them, that earthly
matters had grown nauseous to him; and at any time he might decide
to die. The Priestly Clan uses its own discretion in the election
of a new king, but it takes note of popular sentiment; and a
general who at the critical time could come home victorious from a
great campaign, which moreover would release a harassed people from
the constant application of arms, would be the idol of the moment.
These things were pointed out to me solemnly and in the full
"What! They promised you the throne?"
"Even that. So you see I set out with a high stake before me.
Phorenice I had never seen, and I swore to take her alive, and give
her to be the sport of my soldiery. I had a fine confidence in my
own strategy then, Deucalion. But the old Gods, in whom I trusted
then, remained old, taught me no new thing. I drilled and
exercised my army according to the forms you and I learnt together,
old comrade, and in many a tough fight found to serve well; I armed
them with the choicest weapons we knew of then, with sling and
mace, with bow and spear, with axe and knife, with sword and the
throwing fire; their bodies I covered with metal plates; even their
bellies I cared for, with droves of cattle driven in the rear of
the fighting troops.
"But when the encounter came, they might have been men of
straw for all the harm they did. Out of her own brain Phorenice
had made fire-tubes that cast a dart which would kill beyond two
bowshots, and the fashion in which she handled her troops dazzled
me. They threatened us on one flank, they harassed us on the
other. It was not war as we had been accustomed to. It was a
newer and more deadly game, and I had to watch my splendid army
eaten away as waves eat a sandhill. Never once did I get a chance
of forcing close action. These new tactics that had come from
Phorenice's invention, were beyond my art to meet or understand.
We were eight to her one, and our close-packed numbers only made us
so much the more easy for slaughter. A panic came, and those who
could fled. Myself, I had no wish to go back and earn the axe that
waits for the unsuccessful general. I tried to die there fighting
where I stood. But death would not come. It was a fine melee,
Deucalion, that last one."
"And so she took you?"
"I stood with three others back to back, with a ring of dead round
us, and a ring of the enemy hemming us in. We taunted them to
come on. But at hand-to-hand courtesies we had shown we could hold
our own, and so they were calling for fire-tubes with which they
could strike us down in safety from a distance. Then up came
Phorenice. 'What is this to-do?' says she. 'We seek to kill Lord
Tatho, who led against you,' say they. 'So that is Tatho?' says
she. 'A fine figure of a man indeed, and a pretty fighter
seemingly, after the old manner. Doubtless he is one who would
acquire the newer method. See now Tatho,' says she, 'it is my
custom to offer those I vanquish either the sword (which, believe
me, was never nearer your neck than now) or service under my
banner. Will you make a choice?'
"'Woman,' I said, 'fairest that ever I saw, finest general the
world has ever borne, you tempt me sorely by your qualities, but
there is a tradition in our Clan, that we should be true to the
salt we eat. I am the King's man still, and so I can take no
service from you.'
"'The King is dead,' says she. 'A runner has just brought the
tidings, meaning them to have fallen into your hands. And I am the
"'Who made you Empress?' I asked.
"'The same most capable hand that has given me this battle,'
says she. 'It is a capable hand, as you have seen: it can be a
kind hand also, as you may learn if you choose. With the King
dead, Tatho is a masterless man now. Is Tatho in want of a
"'Such a glorious mistress as you,' I said, 'Yes.' And from
that moment, Deucalion, I have been her slave. Oh, you may frown;
you may get up from this seat and walk away if you will. But I ask
you this: keep back your worst judgment of me, old friend, till
after you have seen Phorenice herself in the warm and lovely flesh.
Then your own ears and your own senses will be my advocates, to win
me back your old esteem."
The words of Tatho were no sleeping draught for me that night.
I began to think that I had made somewhat a mistake in wrapping
myself up so entirely in my government of Yucatan, and not
contriving to keep more in touch with events that were passing at
home in Atlantis. For many years past it had been easy to see that
the mariner folk who did traffic across the seas spoke with
restraint, and that only what news the Empress pleased was allowed
to ooze out beyond her borders. But, as I say, I was fully
occupied with my work in the colony, and had no curiosity to pull
away a veil intentionally placed. Besides, it has always been
against my principles to put to the torture men who had received
orders for silence from their superiors, merely that they shall
break these orders for my private convenience.
However, the iron discipline of our Priestly Clan left me no
choice of procedure. As was customary, I had been deprived of my
office at a moment's notice. From that time on, all papers and
authority belonged to my successor, and, although by courtesy I
might be permitted to remain as a guest in the pyramid that had so
recently been mine, to see another sunrise, it was clearly enjoined
that I must leave the territory then at the topmost of my speed and
hasten to report in Atlantis.
Tatho, to give him credit, was anxious to further my interests
to the utmost in his power. He was by my side again before the
dawn, putting all his resources at my disposal.
I had little enough to ask him. "A ship to take me home," I
said, "and I shall be your debtor."
The request seemed to surprise him. "That you may certainly
have if you wish it. But my ships are foul with the long passage,
and are in need of a careen. If you take them, you will make a
slow voyage of it to Atlantis. Why do you not take your own navy?
The ships are in harbour now, for I saw them there when we came in.
Brave ships they are too."
"But not mine. That navy belongs to Yucatan."
"Well, Deucalion, you are Yucatan; or, rather, you were
yesterday, and have been these twenty years."
I saw what he meant, and the idea did not please me. I answered
stiffly enough that the ships were owned by private merchants,
or belonged to the State, and I could not claim so much as a
ten-slave galley.
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose you know your own
policies best," he said, "though to me it seems but risky for a man
who has attained to a position like yours and mine not to have
provided himself with a stout navy of his own. One never knows
when a recall may be sent, and, through lack of these precautions,
a life's earnings may very well be lost in a dozen hours."
"I have no fear for mine," I said coldly.
"Of course not, because you know me to be your friend. But
had another man been appointed to this vice-royalty, you might have
been sadly shorn, Deucalion. It is not many fellows who can resist
a snug hoard ready and waiting in the very coffers they have come
to line."
"My Lord Tatho," I said, "it is clear to me that you and I
have grown to be of different tastes. All of the hoard that I have
made for myself in this colony, few men would covet. I have the
poor clothes you see me in this moment, and a box of drugs such as
I have found useful to the stomach. I possess also three slaves,
two of them scribes and the third a sturdy savage from Europe, who
cooks my victual and fills for me the bath. For my maintenance
during my years of service, here, I have bled the State of a
soldier's ration and nothing beyond; and if in my name any man has
mulcted a creature in Yucatan of so much as an ounce of bronze, I
request you as a last service to have that man hanged for me as a
liar and a thief."
Tatho looked at me curiously. "I do not know whether I admire
you most or whether I pity. I do not know whether to be astonished
or to despise. We had heard of much of your uprightness over
yonder in Atlantis, of your sternness and your justice, but I swear
by the old Gods that no soul guessed you carried your fancy so far
as this. Why, man, money is power. With money and the resources
money can buy, nothing could stop a fellow like you; whilst without
it you may be tripped up and trodden down irrevocably at the first
puny reverse."
"The Gods will choose my fate."
"Possibly; but for mine, I prefer to nourish it myself. I
tell you with frankness that I have not come here to follow in the
pattern you have made for a vice-royalty. I shall govern Yucatan
wisely and well to the best of my ability; but I shall govern it
also for the good of Tatho, the viceroy. I have brought with me
here my navy of eight ships and a personal bodyguard. There is my
wife also, and her women and her slaves. All these must be
provided for. And why indeed should it be otherwise? If a people
is to be governed, it should be their privilege to pay handsomely
for their prince."
"We shall not agree on this. You have the power now, and can
employ it as you choose. If I thought it would be of any use, I
should like to supplicate you most humbly to deal with lenience
when you come to tax these people who are under you. They have
grown very dear to me."
"I have disgusted you with me, and I am grieved for it. But
even to retain your good opinion, Deucalion--which I value more
than that of any man living--I cannot do here as you have done. It
would be impossible, even if I wished it. You must not judge all
other men by your own strong standard: a Tatho is by no means a
colossus like a Deucalion. And besides, I have a wife and
children, and they must be provided for, even if I neglect myself."
"Ah, there," I said, "it does seem that I possess the
advantage. I have no wife, to clog me."
He caught up my word quickly. "It seems to me you have
nothing that makes life worth living. You have neither wife,
children, riches, cooks, retinue, dresses, nor anything else in
proportion to your station. You will pardon my saying it, old
comrade, but you are plaguey ignorant about some matters. For
example, you do not know how to dine. During every day of a very
weary voyage, I have promised myself when sitting before the meagre
sea victual, that presently the abstinence would be more than
repaid by Deucalion's welcoming feast. Oh, I tell you that feast
was one of the vividest things that ever came before my eyes. And
then when we get to the actuality, what was it? Why, a country
farmer every day sits down to more delicate fare. You told me how
it was prepared. Well, your savage from Europe may be lusty, and
perchance is faithful, but be is a devil-possessed cook. Gods! I
have lived better on a campaign.
"I know this is a colony here, without any of the home
refinements; but if in the days to come, the deer of the forest,
the fish of the stream, and the other resources of the place are
not put to better use than heretofore, I shall see it my duty as
ruler to fry some of the kitchen staff alive in grease so as to
encourage better cookery. Gods! Deucalion, have you forgotten
what it is to have a palate? And have you no esteem for your own
dignity? Man, look at your clothes. You are garbed like a
herdsman, and you have not a gaud or a jewel to brighten you."
"I eat," I said coldly, "when my hunger bids me, and I carry
this one robe upon my person till it is worn out and needs
replacement. The grossness of excessive banqueting, and the
effeminacy of many clothes are attainments that never met my fancy.
But I think we have talked here over long, and there seems little
chance of our finding agreement. You have changed, Tatho, with the
years, and perhaps I have changed also. These alterations creep
imperceptibly into one's being as time advances. Let us part now,
and, forgetting these present differences, remember only our
friendship of twenty years agone. That for me, at any rate, has
always had a pleasant savour when called up into the memory."
Tatho bowed his head. "So be it," he said.
"And I would still charge myself upon your bounty for that
ship. Dawn cannot be far off now, and it is not decent that the
man who has ruled here so long, should walk in daylight through the
streets on the morning after his dismissal."
"So be it," said Tatho. "You shall have my poor navy. I
could have wished that you had asked me something greater."
"Not the navy, Tatho; one small ship. Believe me, more is
"Now, there," said Tatho, "I shall act the tyrant. I am
viceroy here now, and will have my way in this. You may go naked
of all possessions: that I cannot help. But depart for Atlantis
unattended, that you shall not."
And so, in fine, as the choice was set beyond me, it was in
the "Bear," Tatho's own private ship, with all the rest of his navy
sailing in escort, that I did finally make my transit.
But the start was not immediate. The vessels lay moored
against the stone quays of the inner harbour, gutted of their
stores, and with crews exhausted, and it would have been suicide to
have forced them out then and there to again take the seas.
So the courtesies were fulfilled by the craft whereon I abode
hauling out into the entrance basin, and anchoring there in the
swells of the fairway; and forthwith she and her consorts took in
wood and water, cured meat and fish ashore, and refitted in all
needful ways, with all speed attainable.
For myself there came then, as the first time during twenty
busy years, a breathing space from work. I had no further
connection with the country of my labours; indeed, officially, I
had left it already. Into the working of the ship it was contrary
to rule that I should make any inspection or interest, since all
sea matters were the exclusive property of the Mariners' Guild,
secured to them by royal patent, and most jealously guarded.
So there remained to me in my day, hours to gaze (if I would)
upon the quays, the harbours, the palaces, and the pyramids of the
splendid city before me which I had seen grow stone by stone from
its foundations; or to roam my eye over the pastures and the grain
lands beyond the walls, and to look longingly at the dense forests
behind, from which field by field we had so tediously ripped our
Would Tatho continue the work so healthily begun? I trusted
so, even in spite of his selfish words. And at all hours, during
the radiance of our Lord the Sun, or under the stars of night, I
was free to pursue that study of the higher mysteries, on which we
of the Priests' Clan are trained to set our minds, without aid of
book or instrument, of image or temple.
The refitting of the navy was gone about with speed. Never,
it is said, had ships been reprovisioned and caulked, and remanned
with greater speed for the over-ocean voyage. Indeed, it was
barely over a month from the day that they brought up in the
harbour, they put out beyond the walls, and began their voyage
eastward over the hills and dale of the ocean.
Rowing-slaves from Europe for this long passage of sea are not
taken now, owing to the difficulty in provisioning them, for modern
humanity forbids the practice of letting them eat one another
according to the home custom of their continent; sails alone are
but an indifferent stand by; but modern science has shown how to
extract force from the Sun, when He is free from cloud, and this
(in a manner kept secret by mariners) is made to draw sea-water at
the forepart of the vessel, and eject it with such force at the
stern that she is appreciably driven forward, even with the wind
In another matter also has navigation vastly improved. It is
not necessary now, as formerly, to trust wholly to a starry night
(when beyond sight of land) to find direction. A little image has
been made, and is stood balanced in the forepart of every vessel,
with an arm outstretched, pointing constantly to the direction
where the Southern Cross lies in the Heavens. So, by setting an
angle, can a just course be correctly steered. Other instruments
have they also for finding a true position on the ocean wastes, for
the newer mariner, when he is at sea, puts little trust in the
Gods, and confides mightily in his own thews and wits.
Still, it is amusing to see these tarry fellows, even in this
modern day, take their last farewell of the harbour town. The ship
is stowed, and all ready for sea, and they wash and put on all
their bravery of attire. Ashore they go, their faces long with
piety, and seek some obscure temple whose God has little flavour
with shore folk, and here they make sacrifice with clamour and
lavish outlay. And, finally, there follows a feast in honour of
the God, and they arrive back on board, and put to sea for the most
part drunken, and all heavy and evil-humoured with gluttony and
their other excesses.
The voyage was very different to my previous sea-going. There
was no creeping timorously along in touch with the coasts. We
stood straight across the open gulf in the direction of home, came
up with the band of the Carib Islands, and worked confidently
through them, as though they had been signposts to mark the sea
highway; and stopped only twice to replenish with wood, water, and
fruit. These commodities, too, the savages brought us freely, so
great was their subjection, and in neither place did we have even
the semblance of a fight. It was a great certificate of the
growing power of Atlantis and her finest over-sea colony.
Then boldly on we went across the vast ocean beyond, with
never a sacrifice to implore the Gods that they should help our
direction. One might feel censure towards these rugged mariners
for their impiety, but one could not help an admiration for their
lusty skill and confidence.
The dangers of the desolate sea are dealt out as the Gods will,
and man can only take them as they come. Storms we encountered,
and the mariners fought them with stubborn endurance; twice a
blazing stone from Heaven hissed into the sea beside us, though
without injuring any of our ships; and, as was unavoidable, the
great beasts of the sea hunted us with their accustomed
savagery. But only once did we suffer material loss from these
last, and that was when three of the greater sea lizards attacked
the "Bear," the ship whereon I travelled, at one and the same time.
The hour of their onset was during the blazing midday heat,
and the Sun being at the full of His power, our machines were
getting full force from Him. The vessel was travelling forward
faster than a man on dry land could walk. But for the power escape
she might as well have been standing still when the beasts sighted
her. There were three of them, as I have said, and we saw them
come up over the curve of the horizon, beating the sea into foam
with their flappers, and waving their great necks like masts as
they swam. Our navy was spread out in a long line of ships, and in
olden days each of the beasts would have selected a separate prey,
and proceeded for it; but, like man, these beasts have learned the
necessities of warfare, and they hunt in pack now and do not
separate their forces.
It was plain they were making for our ship, and Tob, the
captain, would have had me go into the after-castle, and there be
secure from their marauding. He was responsible to the Lord Tatho,
he said, for my safe conduct; it was certain that the beasts would
contrive to seize some of the ship's company before they were
satiated; and if the hap came to the Lord Deucalion, he (the
captain) would have to give himself voluntarily to the beasts then,
to escape a very painful death at Tatho's hands later on.
However, my mind was set. A man can never have too much
experience in fighting enemies, whether human or bestial, and the
attack of these creatures was new to me, and I was fain to learn
its method. So I gave the captain a letter to Tatho, saying how
the matter lay (and for which, it may be mentioned, the rude fellow
seemed little enough grateful), and stayed in my chair under the
The beasts surged up to us with champing jaws, and all the
shipmen stood armed on their defence. They came up alongside, two
females (the smaller) on the flank of the ship, the giant male by
himself on the other. Their great heads swooped about, as high as
the yards that held the sails, and the reek from them gave one
physical sickness.
The shipmen faced the monsters with a sturdy courage. Arrows
were useless against the smooth, bull-like hides. Even the
throwing fire could not so much as singe them; nothing but twenty
axe blows delivered on an attacking head together could beat it
back, and even these succeeded only through sheer weight of metal,
and did not make so much as the scratch of a wound.
During all time beasts have disputed with man the mastery of
the earth, and it is only in Atlantis and Egypt and Yucatan that
man has dared to hold his own, and fight them with a mind made
strong by many previous victories. In Europe and mid-Africa the
greater beasts hold full dominion, and man admits his puny number
and force, and lives in earth crannies and the higher tree-tops, as
a fugitive confessed. And upon the great oceans, the beasts are
lords, unchecked.
Still here, upon this desolate sea, although the giant lizards
were new to me, it was a pleasure to pit my knowledge of war
against their brute strength and courage. Ever since the first men
did their business upon the great waters, they fulfilled their
instincts in fighting the beasts with desperation. Hiding
coward-like in a hold was useless, for if this enemy could not find
men above decks to glut them, they would break a ship with their
paddles, and so all would be slain. And so it was recognised that
the fight should go forward as desperately as might be, and that it
could only end when the beasts had got their prey and had gone away
It was in a one-sided conflict after this fashion then, that
I found myself, and felt the joy once more to have my thews in
action. But after my axe had got in some dozen lusty blows, which,
for all the harm they did, might have been delivered against some
city wall, or, indeed, against the ark of the Mysteries itself, I
sought about me till I found a lance, and with that made very
different play.
The eyes of these lizards are small, and set deep in a bony
socket, but I judged them to be vulnerable, and it was upon the
eyes of the beast that I made my attack. The decks were slippery
with the horrid slime of them. The crew surged about in their
battling, and, moreover, constantly offered themselves as a rampart
before me by reason of Tob, the captain's threats. But I gave a
few shrewd progues with the lance to show that I did not choose my
will to be overridden, and presently was given room for manoeuvre.
Deliberately I placed myself in the sight of one of the
lizards, and offered my body to its attack. The challenge was
accepted. It swooped like a dropping stone, and I swerved and
drove in the lance at its oozy eye.
I thanked the Gods then that I had been trained with the lance
till certain aim was a matter of instinct with me. The blade went
true to its mark and stuck there, and the shaft broke in my hand.
The beast drew off, blinded and bellowing, and beating the sea with
its paddles. In a great cataract of foam I saw it bend its great
long neck, and rub its head (with the spear still fixed) against
its back, thereby enduring new agonies, but without dislodging the
weapon. And then presently, finding this of no avail, it set off
for the place from which it came with extraordinary quickness, and
rapidly grew smaller against the horizon.
The male and the other female lizard had also left us, but not
in similar plight. Tob, the captain, seeing my resolve to take
hazards, deliberately thrust a shipman into the jaws of each of the
others, so that they might be sated and get them gone. It was
clear that Tob dreaded very much for his own skin if I came by
harm, and I thought with a warming heart of the threats that Tatho
must have used in his kind anxiety for my safety. It is pleasant
when one's old friends do not omit to pay these little attentions.
Now, when we came up with the coasts of Atlantis, though Tob,
with the aid of his modern instruments, had made his landfall with
most marvellous skill and nearness, there still remained some ten
days' more journey in which we had to retrace our course, till we
came to that arm of the sea up which lies the great city of
Atlantis, the capital.
The sight of the land, and the breath of earth and herbage
which came off from it with the breezes, were, I believe, under the
Gods, the means of saving the lives of all of us. For, as is
necessary with long cross-ocean voyages, many of our ships'
companies had died, and still more were sick with scurvy through
the unnatural tossing, or (as some have it) through the salt,
unnatural food inseparable from shipboard. But these last, the
sight and the smells of land heartened up in extraordinary fashion,
and from being helpless logs, unable to move even under blows of
the scourge, they became active again, able to help in the
shipwork, and lusty (when the time came) to fight for their lives
and their vessels.
From the moment that I was deposed in Yucatan, despite Tatho's
assurances, there had been doubts in my mind as to what nature
would be my reception in Atlantis. But I had faced this event of
the future without concern: it was in the hands of the Gods. The
Empress Phorenice might be supreme on earth; she might cause my
head to be lopped from its proper shoulders the moment I set foot
ashore; but my Lord the Sun was above Phorenice, and if my head
fell, it would be because He saw best that it should be so. On
which account, therefore, I had not troubled myself about the
matter during the voyage, but had followed out my calm study of the
higher mysteries with an unloaded mind.
But when our navy had retraced sufficiently the course that
had been overrun, and came up with the two vast headlands which
marked the entrance to the inland waters, there, a bare two days
from the Atlantis capital, we met with another navy which was,
beyond doubt, waiting to give us a reception. The ships were
riding at anchor in a bay which lent them shelter, but they had
scouts on the high land above, who cried the alarm of our approach,
and when we rounded the headland, they were standing out to dispute
our passage.
Of us there were now but five ships, the rest having been lost
in storms, or fallen behind because all their crews were dead from
the scurvy; and of the strangers there were three fine ships, and
three galleys of many oars apiece. They were clean and bright and
black; our ships were storm-ragged and weather-worn, and had
bottoms that were foul with trailing ocean weed. Our ships hung
out the colours and signs of Tatho and Deucalion openly and without
shame, so that all who looked might know their origin and errand;
but the other navy came on without banner or antient, as though
they were some low creatures feeling shame for their birth.
Clear it seemed also that they would not let us pass without
a fight, and in this there was nothing uncommon; for no law carries
out over the seas, and a brother in one ship feels quite free to
harry his brother in another vessel if he meets him out of earshot
of the beach--more especially if that other brother be coming home
laden from foray or trading tour. So Tob, with system and method,
got our vessel into fighting trim, and the other four captains did
the like with theirs, and drew close in to us to form a compact
squadron. They had no wish to smell slavery, now that the voyage
had come so near to its end.
Our Lord the Sun shone brilliantly, giving full speed to the
machines, as though He was fully willing for the affair to proceed,
and the two navies approached one another with quickness, the three
galleys holding back to stay in line with their consorts. But when
some bare hundred ship-lengths separated us, the other navy halted,
and one of the galleys, drawing ahead, flew green branches from her
masts, seeking for a parley.
The course was unusual, but we, in our sea-battered state,
were no navy to invite a fight unnecessarily. So in hoarse
sea-bawls word was passed, and we too halted, and Tob hoisted a
withered stick (which had to do duty for greenery), to show that we
were ready for talk, and would respect the person of an ambassador.
The galley drew on, swung round, and backed till its stern
rasped on our shield rail, and one of her people clambered up and
jumped down upon our decks. He was a dandily rigged-out fellow,
young and lusty, and all healthy from the land and land victual,
and he looked round him with a sneer at our sea-tatteredness, and
with a fine self-confidence. Then, seeing Tob, he nodded as one
meets an acquaintance. "Old pot-mate," he said, "your woman waits
for you up by the quay-side in Atlantis yonder, with four
youngsters at her heels. I saw her not half a month ago."
"You didn't come out here to tell me home news," said Tob;
"that I'll be sworn. I've drunk enough pots with you, Dason, to
know your pleasantries thoroughly."
"I wanted to point out to you that your home is still there,
with your wife and children ready to welcome you."
"I am not a man that ever forgets it," said Tob grimly; "and
because I've got them always at the back of my mind, I've sailed
this ship over the top of more than one pirate, when, if I'd been
a single man, I might have been e'en content to take the hap of
"Oh, I know you're a desperate enough fellow," said Dason,
"and I'm free to confess that if it does come to blows we are like
to lose a few men before we get you and your cripples here, and
your crazy ships comfortably sunk. Our navy has its orders to
carry out, and the cause of my embassage is this: we wish to see if
you will act the sensible part and give us what we want, and so be
permitted to go on your way home, with a skin that is unslit and
"You have come to the wrong bird here for a plucking," said
Tob with a heavy laugh. "We took no treasure or merchandise on
board in Yucatan. We stayed in harbour long enough to cure our sea
victual and fill with food and water, and no longer. We sail back
as we sailed out, barren ships. You will not believe me, of
course; I would not have believed you had our places been changed;
but you may go into the holds and search if you choose. You will
find there nothing but a few poor sailormen half in pieces with the
scurvy. No, you can steal nothing here but blows, Dason, and we
will give you those with but little asking."
"I am glad to see that you state your cargo at such slender
value," said the envoy, "for it is the cargo I must take back with
me on the galley, if you are to earn your safe conduct to home."
Tob knit his brows. "You had better speak more plain," he
said. "I am a common sailor, and do not understand fancy talk."
"It is clear to see," said Dason, "that you have been set to
bring Deucalion back to Atlantis as a prop for Phorenice. Well, we
others find Phorenice hard enough to fight against without further
reinforcements, and so we want Deucalion in our own custody to deal
with after our own fashion."
"And if I do the miser, and deny you this piece of my freight?"
The spruce envoy looked round at the splintered ship, and the
battered navy beside her. "Why, then, Tob, we shall send you all
to the fishes in very short time, and instead of Deucalion standing
before the Gods alone, he will go down with a fine ragged company
limping at his heels."
"I doubt it," said Tob, "but we shall see. As for letting you
have my Lord Deucalion, that is out of the question. For see here,
pot-mate Dason; in the first place, if I went to Atlantis without
Deucalion, my other lord, Tatho, would come back one of these days,
and in his hands I should die by the slowest of slow inches; in the
second, I have seen my Lord Deucalion kill a great sea lizard, and
he showed himself such a proper man that day that I would not give
him up against his will, even to Tatho himself; and in the third
place, you owe me for your share in our last wine-bout ashore, and
I'll see you with the nether Gods before I give you aught till
you've settled that score."
"Well, Tob, I hope you'll drown easy. As for that wife of yours,
I've always had a fancy for her myself, and I shall know how to
find a use for the woman."
"I'll draw your neck for that, you son of a European," said
Tob; "and if you do not clear off this deck I'll draw it here.
Go," he cried, "you father of monkey children! Get away, and let
me fight you fairly, or by my honour I'll stamp the inwards out of
you, and make your silly crew wear them as necklaces."
Upon which Dason went to his galley.
Promptly Tob set going the machine on our own "Bear," and
bawled his orders right and left to the other ships. The crew
might be weak with scurvy, but they were quick to obey. Instantly
the five vessels were all started, and because our Lord the Sun was
shining brightly, got soon to the full of their pace. The whole of
our small navy converged, singling out one ship of their opponents,
and she, not being ready for so swift an attack, got flurried, and
endeavoured to turn and run for room, instead of trying to meet us
bows on. As a consequence, the whole of our five ships hit her
together on the broadside, tearing her planking with their
underwater beaks, and sinking her before we had backed clear from
the engage.
But if we thus brought the enemy's number down to five, and so
equal to our own, the advantage did not remain with us for long.
The three nimble galleys formed into line: their boatswains' whips
cracked as the slaves bent to their oars, and presently one of our
own ships was gored and sunk, the men on her being killed in the
water without hope of rescue.
And then commenced a tight-locked melee that would have warmed
the heart of the greatest warrior alive. The ships and the galleys
were forced together and lay savagely grinding one another upon the
swells, as though they had been sentient animals. The men on board
them shot their arrows, slashed with axes, thrust and hacked with
swords, and hurled the throwing fire. But in every way the fight
converged upon the "Bear." It was on her that the enemy spent the
fiercest of their spite; it was to the "Bear," that the other crews
of Tatho's navy rallied as their own vessels caught fire, or were
sunk or taken.
Battle is an old acquaintance with us of the Priestly Clan,
and for those of us who have had to carve out territories for the
new colonies, it comes with enough frequency to cloy even the most
chivalrous appetite. So I can speak here as a man of experience.
Up till that time, for half a life-span, I had heard men shout
"Deucalion" as a battlecry, and in my day had seen some lusty
encounters. But this sea-fight surprised even me in its savage
fierceness. The bleak, unstable element which surrounded us; the
swaying decks on which we fought; the throwing fire, which burnt
flesh and wood alike with its horrid flame; the great gluttonous
man-eating birds that hovered in the sky overhead; the man-eating
fish that swarmed up from the seas around, gnawing and quarrelling
over those that fell into the waters, all went to make up a
circumstance fit to daunt the bravest men-at-arms ever gathered for
an army.
But these tarry shipmen faced it all with an indomitable
courage, and never a cry of quailing. Life on the seas is so hard,
and (from the beasts that haunt the great waters) so full of savage
dangers, that Death has lost half his terrors to them through sheer
familiarity. They were fellows who from pure lust for a fray would
fight to a finish amongst themselves in the taverns ashore; and so
here, in this desperate sea-battle, the passion for killing burned
in them, as a fire stone from Heaven rages in a forest; and they
took even their death-wounds laughing.
On our side the battle-cry was "Tob!" and the name of this
obscure ship-captain seemed to carry a confidence with it for our
own crews that many a well-known commander might have envied. The
enemy had a dozen rallying cries, and these confused them. But as
their other ship-commanders one by one were killed, and Dason
remained, active with mischief, "Dason!" became the shout which was
thrown back at us in response to our "Tob!"
However, I will not load my page with farther long account of
this obscure sea-fight, whose only glory was its ferocity. One by
one all the ships of either side were sunk or lay with all their
people killed, till finally only Dason's galley and our own "Bear"
were left. For the moment we were being mastered. We had a score
of men remaining out of all those that manned the navy when it
sailed from Yucatan, and the enemy had boarded us and made the
decks of the "Bear" the field of battle. But they had been over
busy with the throwing fire, and presently, as we raged at one
another, the smoke and the flame from the sturdy vessel herself let
us very plainly know that she was past salvation.
But Tob was nothing daunted. "They may stay here and fry if they
choose," he shouted with his great boisterous laugh, "but for
ourselves the galley is good enough now. Keep a guard on
Deucalion, and come with me, shipmates!"
"Tob!" our fellows shouted in their ecstasy of fighting
madness, and I too could not forbear sending out a "Tob!" for my
battle-cry. It was a change for me not to be leader, but it was a
luxury for once to fight in the wake of this Tob, despite his
uncouthness of mien and plan. There was no stopping this new rush,
though progress still was slow. Tob with his bloody axe cut the
road in front, and we others, with the lust of battle filling us to
the chin, raged like furies in his wake. Gods! but it was a fight.
Ten of us won to the galley, with the flames and the smoke from
the poor "Bear" spurting at our heels. We turned and stabbed
madly at all who tried to follow, and hacked through the grapples
that held the vessels to their embrace. The sea-swells spurned the
"Bear" away.
The slaves chained to the rowing-galley's benches had interest
neither one way nor the other, and looked on the contest with dull
concern, save when some stray missile found a billet amongst them.
But a handful of the fighting men had scrambled desperately on
board the galley after us, preferring any fate to a fiery death on
the "Bear," and these had to be dealt with promptly. Three, with
their fighting fury still red-hot in them, had most wastefully to
be killed out of mischief's way; five, who had pitched their
weapons into the sea, were chained to oar looms, in place of slaves
who were dead; and there remained only Dason to have a fate
The fight had cooled out of him, and he had thrown his arms to
the sea, and stood sullenly ready for what might befall; and to him
Tob went up with an exulting face.
"Ho, pot-mate Dason," cried he, "you made a lot of talk an
hour ago about that woman of mine, who lives with her brats on the
quay-side in Atlantis yonder. Now, I'll give you a pleasant
choice; either I'll take you along home, and tell her what you said
before the whole ship's company (that are for the most part dead
now, poor souls!), and I'll leave her to perform on your carcase as
she sees fit by way of payment; or, as the other choice, I'll deal
with you here now myself."
"I thank you for the chance," said Dason, and knelt and offered
his neck to the axe. So Tob cut off his head, sticking it
on the galley's beak as an advertisement of what had been done.
The body he threw over the side, and one of the great man-eating
birds that hovered near, picked it up and flew away with it to its
nest amongst the crags. And so we were free to get a meal of the
fruits and the fresh meats which the galley offered, whilst the
oar-slaves sent the galley rushing onwards towards the capital.
There was a wine-skin in the after-castle, and I filled a horn
and poured some out at Tob's feet in salutation. "My man," I said,
"you have shown me a fight."
"Thanks," said he, "and I know you are a judge. 'Twas pretty
whilst it lasted; and, seeing that my lads were, for the most,
scurvy-rotten, I will say they fought with credit. I have lost my
Lord Tatho's navy, but I think Phorenice will see me righted there.
If those that are against her took so much trouble to kill my Lord
Deucalion before he could come to her aid, I can fancy she will not
be niggard in her joy when I put Deucalion safe, if somewhat dented
and blood-bespattered, on the quay."
"The Gods know," I said, for it is never my custom to discuss
policies with my inferiors, even though etiquette be for the moment
loosened, as ours was then by the thrill of battle. "The Gods will
decide what is best for you, Tob, even as they have decided that it
is best that I should go on to Atlantis."
The sailor held a horn filled from the wine-skin in his hand,
and I think was minded to pour a libation at my feet, even as I had
done at his. But he changed his mind, and emptied it down his
throat instead. "It is thirsty work, this fighting," he said, "and
that drink comes very useful."
I put my hand on his blood-smeared arm. "Tob," I said,
"whether I step into power again, or whether I go to the block
to-morrow, is another matter which the Gods alone know, but hear me
tell you now, that if a chance is given me of showing my gratitude,
I shall not forget the way you have served me in this voyage, and
the way you have fought this day."
Tob filled another brimming horn from the wine-skin and
splashed it at my feet. "That's good enough surety for me," he
said, "that my woman and brats never want from this day onward.
The Lord Deucalion for the block, indeed!"
Now I can say it with all truth that, till the rival navy met
us in the mouth of the gulf, I had thought little enough of my
importance as a recruit for the Empress. But the laying in wait
for us of those ships, and the wild ferocity with which they fought
so that I might fall into their hands, were omens which the
blindest could not fail to read. It was clear that I was expected
to play a lusty part in the fortunes of the nation.
But if our coming had been watched for by enemies it seemed
that Phorenice also had her scouts; and these saw us from the
mountains, and carried news to the capital. The arm of the sea at
the head of which the vast city of Atlantis stands, varies greatly
in width. In places where the mountains have over-boiled, and sent
their liquid contents down to form hard stone below, the channel
has barely a river's wideness, and then beyond, for the next
half-day's sail it will widen out into a lake, with the sides
barely visible. Moreover, its course is winding, and so a runner
who knows his way across the flats, and the swamps, and between the
smoking hills which lie along the shore, and did not get overcome
by fire-streams, or water, or wandering beasts, could carry news
overland from seacoast to capital far speedier than even the most
shrewdly whipped of galleys could ferry it along the water.
Of course there were heavy risks that a lone traveller would
not make a safe passage by this land route, if he were bidden to
sacrifice all precautions to speed. But Phorenice was no niggard
with her couriers. She sent a corps of twenty to the headland that
overlooks the sea-entrance to the straits; they started with the
news, each on his own route; and it says much for their speed and
cleverness, that no fewer than seven of these agile fellows came
through scathless with their tidings, and of the others it was said
that quite three were known to have survived.
Still, about this we had no means of knowing at the time, and
pushed on in fancy that our coming was quite unheralded. The
slaves on the galley's row-banks were for the most part savages
from Europe, and the smell of them was so offensive that the voyage
lost all its pleasures; and as, moreover, the wind carried with it
an infinite abundance of small grit from some erupting fire
mountain, we were anxious to linger as little as possible.
Besides, if I may confess to such a thing without being unduly
degraded, although by my priestly training I had been taught
stoicism, and knew that all the future was in the hands of the
Gods, I was frailly human still to have a very vast curiosity as to
what would be the form of my own reception at Atlantis. I could
imagine myself taken a formal prisoner on landing, and set on a
formal trial to answer for my cure of the colony of Yucatan; I
could imagine myself stepping ashore unknown and unnoticed, and
after a due lapse, being sent for by the Empress to take up new
duties; but the manner of my real welcome was a thing I did not
even guess at.
We came in sight of the peak of the sacred mountain, with its
glare of eternal fires which stand behind the city, one morning
with the day's break, and the whips of the boatswains cracked more
vehemently, so that those offensive slaves should give the galley
a final spurt. The wind was adverse, and no sail could be spread,
but under oars alone we made a pretty pace, and the sides of the
sacred mountain grew longer, and presently the peaks of the
pyramids in the city, the towers of the higher buildings, began to
show themselves as though they floated upon the gleaming water. It
was twenty years since I had seen Atlantis last, and my heart
glowed with the thought of treading again upon her paving-stones.
The splendid city grew out of the sea as we approached, and to
every throb of the oars, the shores leaped nearer. I saw the
temple where I had been admitted first to manhood; I saw the
pyramid in whose heart I had been initiated to the small mysteries;
and then (as the lesser objects became discernible) I made out the
house where a father and a mother had reared me, and my eyes became
dim as the memories rose.
We drew up outside the white walls of the harbour, as the law
was, and the slaves panted and sobbed in quietude over the
oar-looms. For vessels thus stationed there is, generally, a
sufficiency of waiting, for a port-captain is apt to be so
uncertain of his own dignity, that he must e'en keep folks waiting
to prove it to them. But here for us it might have been that the
port-captain's boat was waiting. The signal was sounded from the
two castles at the harbour's entrance, the chain which hung between
them was dropped, and a ten-oared boat shot out from behind the
walls as fast as oars could drive her. She raced up alongside and
the questions were put:
"That should be Dason's galley?"
"It was," said Tob.
"Oh, I saw Dason's head on your beak," said the port-captain.
"You were Tatho's captain?"
"And am still. Tatho's fleet was sent by Dason and his friends
to the sea-floor, and so we took this stinking galley to finish
the voyage in, seeing that it was the only craft left afloat."
The port-captain was roving his eye over the group of us who
stood on the after-deck. "I fear me, captain, that you'll have but
a dangerous reception. I do not see my Lord Deucalion. Or does he
come with some other navy? Gods, captain, if you have let him get
killed whilst under your charge, the Empress will have the skin
torn slowly off you living."
"What with Phorenice and Tatho both so curious for his
welfare," said Tob, "my Lord Deucalion seems but a dangerous
passenger. But I shall save my hide this voyage." He jerked at me
with his thumb. "He's there to put in a word for me himself."
The port-captain stared for a moment, as if unbelieving, and
then, as though satisfied, made obeisance like a fellow well used
to ceremonial. "I trust my lord, in his infinite strength, will
pardon my sin in not knowing him by his nobleness before. But
truth to tell, I had looked to see my lord more suitably
"Pish," I said; "if I choose to dress simply, I cannot object
to being mistaken for a simple man. It is not my pleasure to
advertise my quality by the gauds on my garb. If you think amends
are due to me, I pray of your charity that this inquisition may
The fellow was all bows and obsequiousness. "I am the humblest
of my lord's servants," he said. "It will be my exceeding
honour to pilot my lord's galley into the berth appointed in
The boat shot ahead, and our galley-slaves swung into stroke
again. Tob watched me with a dry smile as he stood directing the
men at the helms.
"Well," I said, humouring his whim, "what is it?"
"I'm thinking," said Tob, "that my Lord Deucalion will remember
me only as a very rude fellow when he steps ashore amongst all
this fine gentility."
"You don't think," said I, "anything of the kind."
"Then I must prove my refinement," said Tob, "and not
contradict." He picked up my hand in his huge, hard fist, and
pressed it. "By the Gods, Deucalion, you may be a great prince,
but I've only known you as a man. You're the finest fighter of
beasts and men that walks this world to-day, and I love you for it.
That spear-stroke of yours on the lizard is a thing the singers in
the taverns shall make chaunts about."
We drew rapidly into the harbour, the soldiers in the entrance
castle blowing their trumpets in welcome as we passed between them.
The captain of the port had run up my banner to the masthead of his
boat, having been provided with one apparently for this purpose of
announcement, and from the quays, across the vast basin of the
harbour, there presently came to us the noises of musicians, and
the pale glow of welcoming fires, dancing under the sunlight. I
was almost awed to think that an Empress of Atlantis had come to
such straits as to feel an interest like this in any mere returning
It was clear that nothing was to be done by halves. The
port-captain's boat led, and we had no choice but to follow. Our
galley was run up alongside the royal quay and moored to its posts
and rings of gold, all of which are sacred to the reigning house.
"If Dason could only have foreseen this honour," said Tob, with
grisly jest, "I'm sure he'd have laid in a silken warp to make
fast on the bollards instead of mere plebeian hemp. I'm sure
there'd be a frown on Dason's head this minute, if the sun
hadn't scorched it stiff. My Lord Deucalion, will you pick your
way with niceness over this common ship and tread on the genteel
carpet they've spread for you on the quay yonder?"
The port-captain heard Tob's rude banter and looked up with a
face of horror, and I remembered, with a small sigh, that colonial
freedom would have no place here in Atlantis. Once more I must
prepare myself for all the dignity of rank, and make ready to tread
the formalities of vast and gorgeous ceremonial.
But, be these things how they may, a self-respecting man must
preserve his individuality also, and though I consented to enter a
pavilion of crimson cloth, specially erected to shelter me till the
Empress should deign to arrive, there my complaisance ended. Again
the matter of clothes was harped upon. The three gorgeously
caparisoned chamberlains, who had inducted me to the shelter, laid
before me changes of raiment bedecked with every imaginable kind of
frippery, and would have me transform myself into a popinjay in
fashion like their own.
Curtly enough, I refused to alter my garb, and when one of
them stammeringly referred to the Empress's tastes I asked him with
plainness if he had got any definite commands on this paltry matter
from her mightiness.
Of course, he had to confess that there were none.
Upon which I retorted that Phorenice had commanded Deucalion,
the man, to attend before her, and had sent no word of her pleasure
as to his outer casing.
"This dress," I said, "suits my temper well. It shields my
poor body from the heat and the wind, and, moreover, it is clean.
It seems to me, sirs," I added, "that your interfering savours
somewhat of an impertinence."
With one accord the chamberlains drew their swords and pushed
the hilts towards me.
"It would be a favour," said their spokesman, "if the great
Lord Deucalion would take his vengeance now, instead of delivering
us to the tormentors hereafter."
"Poof," I said, "the matter is forgotten. You make too much
of a little."
Nevertheless, their action gave me some enlightenment. They
were perfectly in earnest in offering me the swords, and I
recognised that this was a different Atlantis that I had come home
to, where a man had dread of the torture for a mere difference
concerning the cut of a coat.
There was a bath in the pavilion, and in that I regaled myself
gladly, though there was some paltry scent added to the water that
took away half its refreshing power; and then I set myself to wait
with all outward composure and placidity. The chamberlains were
too well-bred to break into my calm, and I did not condescend to
small talk. So there we remained, the four of us, I sitting, they
standing, with our Lord the Sun smiting heavily on the scarlet roof
of the pavilion, whilst the music blared, and the welcoming fires
dispersed their odours from the great paved square without, which
faced upon the quay.
It has been said that the great should always collect dignity
by keeping those of lesser degree waiting their pleasure, though
for myself I must say I have always thought the stratagem paltry
and beneath me. Phorenice also seemed of this opinion, for (as she
herself told me later) at the moment that Tob's galley was reported
as having its flank against the marble of the royal quay, at that
precise moment did she start out from the palace. The gorgeous
procession was already marshalled, bedecked, and waiting only for
its chiefest ornament, and as soon as she had mounted to her steed,
trumpets gave the order, and the advance began.
Sitting in the doorway of the pavilion, I saw the soldiery who
formed the head of this vast concourse emerge from the great broad
street where it left the houses. They marched straight across to
give me the salute, and then ranged themselves on the farther side
of the square. Then came the Mariners' Guild, then more soldiers,
all making obeisance in their turn, and passing on to make room for
others. Following were the merchants, the tanners, the
spear-makers and all the other acknowledged Guilds, deliberately
attired (so it seemed to me) that they might make a pageant; and
whilst most walked on foot, there were some who proudly rode on
beasts which they had tamed into rendering them this menial
But presently came the two wonders of all that dazzling
spectacle. From out of the eclipse of the houses there swung into
the open no less a beast than a huge bull mammoth. The sight had
sufficient surprise in it almost to make me start. Many a time
during my life had I led hunts to kill the mammoth, when a herd of
them had raided some village or cornland under my charge. I had
seen the huge brutes in the wild ground, shaggy, horrid, monstrous;
more fierce than even the cave-tiger or the cave-bear; most
dangerous beast of all that fight with man for dominion of the
earth, save only for a few of the greater lizards. And here was
this creature, a giant even amongst mammoths, yet tame as any
well-whipped slave, and bearing upon its back a great half-castle
of gold, stamped with the outstretched hand, and bedecked with
silver snakes. Its murderous tusks were gilded, its hairy neck was
garlanded with flowers, and it trod on in the procession as though
assisting at such pageantry was the beginning and end of its
existence. Its tameness seemed a fitting symbol of the masterful
strength of this new ruler of Atlantis.
Simultaneously with the mammoth, there came into sight that
other and greater wonder, the mammoth's mistress, the Empress
Phorenice. The beast took my eye at the first, from its very
uncouth hugeness, from its show of savage power restrained; but the
lady who sat in the golden half-castle on its lofty back quickly
drew away my gaze, and held it immovable from then onwards with an
infinite attraction.
I stood to my feet when the people first shouted at Phorenice's
approach, and remained in the porchway of my scarlet pavilion
till her vast steed had halted in the centre of the square,
and then I advanced across the pavement towards her.
"On your knees, my lord," said one of the chamberlains behind
me, in a scared whisper.
"At least with bent head," urged another.
But I had my own notions of what is due to one's own
self-respect in these matters, and I marched across the bare open
space with head erect, giving the Empress gaze for gaze. She was
clearly summing me up. I was frankly doing the like by her. Gods!
but those few short seconds made me see a woman such as I never
imagined could have lived.
I know I have placed it on record earlier in this writing
that, during all the days of a long official life, women have had
no influence over me. But I have been quick to see that they often
had a strong swaying power over the policies of others, and as a
consequence I have made it my business to study them even as I have
studied men. But this woman who sat under the sacred snakes in her
golden half-castle on the mammoth's back, fairly baffled me. Of
her thoughts I could read no single syllable. I could see a body
slight, supple, and beautifully moulded; in figure rather small.
Her face was a most perfect book of cleverness, yet she was fair,
too, beyond belief, with hair of a lovely ruddiness, cut short in
the new fashion, and bunching on her shoulders. And eyes! Gods!
who could plumb the depths of Phorenice's eyes, or find in mere
tint a trace of their heaven-made colour?
It was plain, also, that she in her turn was searching me down
to my very soul, and it seemed that her scrutiny was not without
its satisfaction. She moved her head in little nods as I drew
near, and when I did the requisite obeisance permitted to my rank,
she bade me in a voice loud and clear enough for all at hand to
hear, never to put forehead on the ground again on her behalf so
long as she ruled in Atlantis.
"For others," she said, "it is fitting that they should do so,
once, twice, or several times, according to their rank and station,
for I am Empress, and they are all so far beneath me; but you are
Deucalion, my lord, and though till to-day I knew you only from
pictures drawn with tongues, I have seen you now, and have judged
for myself. And so I make this decree: Deucalion is above all
other men in Atlantis, and if there is one who does not render him
obedience, that man is enemy also of Phorenice, and shall feel her
She made a sign, and a stair was brought, and then she called
to me, and I mounted and sat beside her in the golden half-castle
under the canopy of royal snakes. The girl who stood behind in
attendance fanned us both with perfumed feathers, and at a word
from Phorenice the mammoth was turned, bearing us back towards the
royal pyramid by the way through which it had come. At the same
time also all the other machinery of splendour was put in motion.
The soldiers and the gaudily bedecked civil traders fell into
procession before and behind, and I noted that a body of troops,
heavily armed, marched on each of the mammoth's flanks.
Phorenice turned to me with a smile. "You piqued me," she
said, "at first."
"Your Majesty overwhelms me with so much notice."
"You looked at my steed before you looked at me. A woman finds
it hard to forgive a slight like that."
"I envied you the greatest of your conquests, and do still.
I have fought mammoths myself, and at times have killed, but I
never dared even to think of taking one alive and bringing it into
"You speak boldly," she said, still smiling, "and yet you can
turn a pretty compliment. Faugh! Deucalion, the way these people
fawn on me gives me a nausea. I am not of the same clay as they
are, I know; but just because I am the daughter of Gods they must
needs feed me on the pap of insincerity."
So Tatho was right, and the swineherd was forgotten. Well, if
she chose to keep up the fiction she had made, it was not my part
to contradict her. Rightly or wrongly I was her servant.
"I have been pining this long enough for a stronger meat than
they can give," she went on, "and at last I have sent for you. I
have been at some pains to procure my tongue-pictures of you,
Deucalion, and though you do not know me yet, I may say I knew you
with all thoroughness even before we met. I can admire a man with
a mind great enough to forego the silly gauds of clothes, or the
excesses of feasts, or the pamperings of women." She looked down
at her own silks and her glittering jewels. "We women like to
carry colours upon our persons, but that is a different matter.
And so I sent for you here to be my minister, and bear with me
the burden of ruling."
"There should be better men in broad Atlantis."
"There are not, my lord, and I who know them all by heart tell
you so. They are all enamoured of my poor person; they weary me
with their empty phrases and their importunities; and, though they
are always brimming with their cries of service, their own
advancement and the filling of their own treasuries ever comes
first with them. So I have sent for you, Deucalion, the one strong
man in all the world. You at least will not sigh to be my lover?"
I saw her watching for my answer from the corner of her eyes.
"The Empress," I said, "is my mistress, and I will be an honest
minister to her. With Phorenice, the woman, it is likely that I
shall have little enough to do. Besides, I am not the sort that
sports with this toy they call love."
"And yet you are a personable man enough," she said rather
thoughtfully. "But that still further proves your strength,
Deucalion. You at least will not lose your head through weak
infatuation for my poor looks and graces."--She turned to the girl
who stood behind us.--"Ylga, fan not so violently."
Our talk broke off then for the moment, and I had time to look
about me. We were passing through the chief street in the fairest,
the most wonderful city this world has ever seen. I had left it a
score of years before, and was curious to note its increase.
In public buildings the city had certainly made growth; there
were new temples, new pyramids, new palaces, and statuary
everywhere. Its greatness and magnificence impressed me more
strongly even than usual, returning to it as I did from such a
distance of time and space, for, though the many cities of Yucatan
might each of them be princely, this great capital was a place not
to be compared with any of them. It was imperial and gorgeous
beyond descriptive words.
Yet most of all was I struck by the poverty and squalor which
stood in such close touch with all this magnificence. In the
throngs that lined the streets there were gaunt bodies and hungry
faces everywhere. Here and there stood one, a man or a woman, as
naked as a savage in Europe, and yet dull to shame. Even the
trader, with trumpery gauds on his coat, aping the prevailing
fashion for display, had a scared, uneasy look to his face, as
though he had forgotten the mere name of safety, and hid a frantic
heart with his tawdry outward vauntings of prosperity.
Phorenice read the direction of my looks.
"The season," she said, "has been unhealthy of recent months.
These lower people will not build fine houses to adorn my city, and
because they choose to live on in their squalid, unsightly kennels,
there have been calentures and other sicknesses amongst them, which
make them disinclined for work. And then, too, for the moment,
earning is not easy. Indeed, you may say trade is nearly stopped
this last half-year, since the rebels have been hammering so
lustily at my city gates."
I was fairly startled out of my decorum.
"Rebels!" I cried. "Who are hammering at the gates of
Atlantis? Is the city in a state of siege?"
"Of their condescension," said Phorenice lightly, "they are
giving us holiday to-day, and so, happily, my welcome to you comes
undisturbed. If they were fighting, your ears would have told you
of it. To give them their due, they are noisy enough in all their
efforts. My spies say they are making ready new engines for use
against the walls, which you may sally out to-morrow and break if
it gives you amusement. But for to-day, Deucalion, I have you, and
you have me, and there is peace round us, and some prettiness of
display. If you ask for more I will give it you."
"I did not know of this rebellion," I said, "but as Your Majesty
has made me your minister, it is well that I should know all about
its scope at once. This is a matter we should be serious upon."
"And do you think I cannot take it seriously also?" she
retorted. "Ylga," she said to the girl that stood behind, "set
loose my dress at the shoulder."
And when the attendant had unlinked the jewelled clasp (as it
seemed to me with a very ill grace), she herself stripped down the
fabric, baring the pure skin beneath, and showing me just below the
curve of the left breast a bandage of bloodstained linen.
"There is a guarantee of my seriousness yesterday, at any
rate," she said, looking at me sidelong. "The arrow struck on a
rib and that saved me. If it had struck between, Deucalion would
have been standing beside my funeral pyre to-day instead of riding
on this pretty steed of mine which he admires so much. Your eye
seems to feast itself most on the mammoth, Deucalion. Ah, poor me.
I am not one of your shaggy creatures, and so it seems I shall
never be able to catch your regard. Ylga," she said to the girl
behind, "you may link my dress up again with its clasp. My Lord
Deucalion has seen wounds before, and there is nothing else here to
interest him."
It appeared that for the present at any rate I was to have my
residence in the royal pyramid. The glittering cavalcade drew up
in the great paved square which lies before the building, and
massed itself in groups. The mammoth was halted before the
doorway, and when a stair had been brought, the trumpets sounded,
and we three who had ridden in the golden half-castle under the
canopy of snakes, descended to the ground.
It was plain that we were going from beneath the open sky to
the apartments which lay inside the vast stone mazes of the
pyramid, and without thinking, the instinct of custom and reverence
that had become part of my nature caused me to turn to where the
towering rocks of the Sacred Mountain frowned above the city, and
make the usual obeisance, and offer up in silence the prescribed
prayer. I say I did this thing unthinking, and as a matter of
common custom, but when I rose to my feet, I could have sworn I
heard a titter of laughter from somewhere in that fancifully
bedecked crowd of onlookers.
I glanced in the direction of the scoffers, frowningly enough,
and then I turned to Phorenice to demand their prompt punishment
for the disrespect. But here was a strange thing. I had looked to
see her in the act and article of rising from an obeisance; but
there she was, standing erect, and had clearly never touched her
forehead to the ground. Moreover, she was regarding me with a
queer look which I could not fathom.
But whatever was in her mind, she had no plan to bawl about it
then before the people collected in the square. She said to me,
"Come," and, turning to the doorway, cried for entrance, giving the
secret word appointed for the day. The ponderous stone blocks,
which barred the porch, swung back on their hinges, and with
stately tread she passed out of the hot sunshine into the cool
gloom beyond, with the fan-girl following decorously at her heels.
With a heaviness beginning to grow at my heart, I too went inside
the pyramid, and the stone doors, with a sullen thud, closed behind
We did not go far just then. Phorenice halted in the hall of
waiting. How well I remembered the place, with the pictures of
kings on its red walls, and the burning fountain of earth-breath
which blazed from a jet of bronze in the middle of the flooring and
gave it light. The old King that was gone had come this far of his
complaisance when he bade me farewell as I set out twenty years
before for my vice-royalty in Yucatan. But the air of the hall was
different to what it had been in those old days. Then it was pure
and sweet. Now it was heavy with some scent, and I found it
languid and oppressive.
"My minister," said the Empress, "I acquit you of intentional
insult; but I think the colonial air has made you a very simple
man. Such an obeisance as you showed to that mountain not a minute
since has not been made since I was sent to reign over this
"Your Majesty," I said, "I am a member of the Priests' Clan
and was brought up in their tenets. I have been taught, before
entering a house, to thank the Gods, and more especially our Lord
the Sun, for the good air that He and They have provided. It has
been my fate more than once to be chased by streams of fire and
stinking air amongst the mountains during one of their sudden
boils, and so I can say the prescribed prayer upon this matter
straight from my heart."
"Circumstances have changed since you left Atlantis," said
Phorenice, "and when thanks are given now, they are not thrown at
those old Gods."
I saw her meaning, and almost started at the impiety of it.
If this was to be the new rule of things, I would have no hand in
it. Fate might deal with me as it chose. To serve truly a
reigning monarch, that I was prepared for; but to palter with
sacrilege, and accept a swineherd's daughter as a God, who should
receive prayers and obeisances, revolted my manhood. So I invited
a crisis.
"Phorenice," I said, "I have been a priest from my childhood
up, revering the Gods, and growing intimate with their mysteries.
Till I find for myself that those old things are false, I must
stand by that allegiance, and if there is a cost for this
faithfulness I must pay it."
She looked at me with a slow smile. "You are a strong man,
Deucalion," she said.
I bowed.
"I have heard others as stubborn," she said, "but they were
converted." She shook out the ruddy bunches of her hair, and stood
so that the light of the burning earth-breath might fall on the
loveliness of her face and form. "I have found it as easy to
convert the stubborn as to burn them. Indeed, there has been
little talk of burning. They have all rushed to conversion,
whether I would or no. But it seems that my poor looks and tongue
are wanting in charm to-day."
"Phorenice is Empress," I said stolidly, "and I am her
servant. To-morrow, if she gives me leave, I will clear away this
rabble which clamours outside the walls. I must begin to prove my
"I am told you are a pretty fighter," said she. "Well, I hold
some small skill in arms myself, and have a conceit that I am
something of a judge. To-morrow we will take a taste of battle
together. But to-day I must carry through the honourable reception
I have planned for you, Deucalion. The feast will be set ready
soon, and you will wish to make ready for the feast. There are
chambers here selected for your use, and stored with what is
needful. Ylga will show you their places."
We waited, the fan-girl and I, till Phorenice had passed out
of the glow of the light-jet, and had left the hall of waiting
through a doorway amongst the shadows of its farther angle, and
then (the girl taking a lamp and leading) we also threaded our way
through the narrow mazes of the pyramid.
Everywhere the air was full of perfumes, and everywhere the
passages turned and twisted and doubled through the solid stone of
the pyramid, so that strangers might have spent hours--yes, or
days--in search before they came to the chamber they desired.
There was a fine cunningness about those forgotten builders who set
up this royal pyramid. They had no mind that kings should fall by
the hand of vulgar assassins who might come in suddenly from
outside. And it is said also that the king of the time, to make
doubly sure, killed all that had built the pyramid, or seen even
the lay of its inner stones.
But the fan-girl led the way with the lamp swinging in her
hand, as one accustomed to the mazes. Here she doubled, there she
turned, and here she stopped in the middle of a blank wall to push
a stone, which swung to let us pass. And once she pressed at the
corner of a flagstone on the floor, which reared up to the thrust
of her foot, and showed us a stair steep and narrow. That we
descended, coming to the foot of an inclined way which led us
upward again; and so by degrees we came unto the chamber which had
been given for my use.
"There is raiment in all these chests which stand by the walls,"
said the girl, "and jewels and gauds in that bronze coffer.
They are Phorenice's first presents, she bid me say, and but a
small earnest of what is to come. My Lord Deucalion can drop his
simplicity now, and fig himself out in finery to suit the fashion."
"Girl," I said sharply, "be more decorous with your tongue, and
spare me such small advice."
"If my Lord Deucalion thinks this a rudeness, he can give a word
to Phorenice, and I shall be whipped. If he asks it, I can be
stripped and scourged before him. The Empress will do much for
Deucalion just now."
"Girl," I said, "you are nearer to that whipping than you think
"I have got a name," she retorted, looking at me sullenly from
under her black brows. "They call me Ylga. You might have heard
that as we rode here on the mammoth, had you not been so wrapped up
in Phorenice."
I gazed at her curiously. "You have never seen me before," I
said, "and the first words you utter are those that might well
bring trouble to yourself. There is some object in all this."
She went and pushed to the massive stone that swung in the
doorway of the chamber. Then she put her little jewelled fingers
on my garment and drew me carefully away from the airshaft into the
farther corner. "I am the daughter of Zaemon," she said, "whom you
"You bring me some message from him?"
"How could I? He lives in the priests' dwellings on the
Mountain you did obeisance to. I have not put eyes on him these
two years. But when I saw you first step out from that red
pavilion they had pitched at the harbour side, I--I felt a pity for
you, Deucalion. I remembered you were my father's, Zaemon's,
friend, and I knew what Phorenice had in store. She has been
plotting it all these two months."
"I cannot hear words against the Empress."
"And yet--"
She stamped her sandal upon the stone of the floor. "You must
be a very blind man, Deucalion, or a very daring one. But I shall
not interfere further; at least not now. Still, I shall watch, and
if at any time you seem to want a friend I will try and serve you."
"I thank you for your friendship."
"You seem to take it lightly enough. Why, sir, even now I do
not believe you know my power, any more than you guess my motive.
You may be first man in this kingdom, but let me tell you I rank as
second lady. And remember, women stand high in Atlantis now.
Believe me, my friendship is a commodity that has been sought with
frequence and industry."
"And as I say, I am grateful for it. You seem to think little
enough of my gratitude, Ylga; but, credit me, I never have bestowed
it on a woman before, and so you should treasure it for its
"Well," she said, "my lord, there is an education before you."
She left me then, showing me how to call slaves when I wished for
their help, and for a full minute I stood wondering at the words I
had spoken to her. Who was the daughter of Zaemon that she should
induce me to change the habit of a lifetime?
The slaves came at my bidding, and showed themselves anxious
to deck me with a thousand foolishnesses in the matter of robes and
gauds, and (what seemed to be the modern fashion of their class)
holding out the virtues of a score of perfumes and unguents. Their
manner irritated me. Clean I was already, and shaved; my hair was
trim, and my robe was unsoiled; and, considering these pressing
attentions of theirs something of an impertinence, I set them to
beat one another as a punishment, promising that if they did not do
it with thoroughness, I would hand them on to the brander to be
marked with stripes which would endure. It is strange, but a
common menial can often surpass even a rebellious general in power
of ruffling one.
I had seen many strange sights that day, and undergone many
new sensations; but of all the things which came to my notice,
Phorenice's manner of summoning the guests to her feast surprised
me most. Nay, it did more; it shocked me profoundly; and I cannot
say whether amazement at her profanity, or wonder at her power, was
for the moment strongest in my breast. I sat in my chamber
awaiting the summons, when gradually, growing out of nothing, a
sound fell upon my ear which increased in volume with infinitely
small graduations, till at last it became a clanging din which hurt
the ear with its fierceness; and then (I guessed what was coming)
the whole massive fabric of the pyramid trembled and groaned and
shook, as though it had been merely a child's wooden toy brushed
about by a strong man's sandal.
It was the portent served out yearly by the chiefs of the
Priests' Clan on the Sacred Mountain, when they bade all the world
take count of their sins. It was the sacred reminder that from
roaring, raging fire, and from the agony of monstrous
earth-tremors, man had been born, and that by these same agencies
he would eventually be swallowed up--he and the sins within his
breast. And here the Empress was prostituting its solemnities into
a mere call to gluttony, and sign for ribald laughter and sensuous
But how had she acquired the authority to do this thing? Who
was she that she should tamper with those dimly understood powers,
the forces that dwell within the liquid heart of our mother earth?
Had there been treachery? Had some member of the Priests' Clan
forgotten his sacred vows, and babbled to this woman matters
concerning the holy mysteries? Or had Phorenice discovered a key
to these mysteries with her own agile brain?
If that last was the case, I could continue to serve her with
silent conscience. Though she might be none of my making, at least
she was Empress, and it was my duty to give her obedience. But if
she had suborned some weaker member of the Clan on the Sacred
Mount, that would be a different matter. For be it remembered that
it was one of the elements of our constitution to preserve our
secrets and mysteries inviolate, and to pursue with undying hatred
both the man who had dared to betray them, and the unhappy
recipient of his confidence.
It was with very undecided feelings, then, that I obeyed the
summons of the earth-shaking, and bade the slaves lead me through
the windings of the pyramid to the great banqueting-hall. The
scene there was dazzling. The majestic chamber with its marvellous
carvings was filled with a company decked out with all the gauds
and colours that fancy could conceive. Little recked they of the
solemn portent which had summoned them to the meal, of the death
and misery that stalked openly through the city wards without, of
the rebels which lay in leaguer beyond the, walls, of the neglected
Gods and their clan of priests on the Sacred Mountain. They were
all gluttonous for the passions of the moment; it was their fashion
and conceit to look at nothing beyond.
Flaming jets of earth-breath lit the great hall to the
brightness of midday; and when I stepped out upon the pavement,
trumpets blared, so that all might know of my coming. But there
was no roar of welcome. "Deucalion," they lisped with mincing
voices, bowing themselves ridiculously to the ground so that all
their ornaments and silks might jangle and swish. Indeed, when
Phorenice herself appeared, and all sent up their cries and made
lawful obeisance, there was the same artificiality in the welcome.
They meant well enough, it is true; but this was the new fashion.
Heartiness had come to be accounted a barbarism by this new
A pair of posturing, smirking chamberlains took me in charge,
and ushered me with their flimsy golden wands to the dais at the
farther end. It appeared that I was to sit on Phorenice's divan,
and eat my meat out of her dish.
"There is no stint to the honour the Empress puts upon me," I
said, as I knelt down and took my seat.
She gave me one of her queer, sidelong looks. "Deucalion may
have more beside, if he asks for it prettily. He may have what all
the other men in the known world have sighed for, and what none of
them will ever get. But I have given enough of my own accord; he
must ask me warmly for those further favours."
"I ask," I said, "first, that I may sweep the boundaries clear
of this rabble which is clamouring against the city walls."
"Pah," she said, and frowned. "Have you appetite only for the
sterner pleasures of life? My good Deucalion, they must have been
rustic folk in that colony of yours. Well, you shall give me news
now of the toothsomeness of this feast."
Dishes and goblets were placed before us, and we began to eat,
though I had little enough appetite for victual so broken and so
highly spiced. But if this finicking cookery and these luscious
wines did not appeal to me, the other diners in that gorgeous hall
appreciated it all to the full. They sat about in groups on the
pavement beneath the light-jets like a tangle of rainbows for
colour, and according to the new custom they went into raptures and
ecstasies over their enjoyment. Women and men both, they lingered
over each titillation of the palate as though it were a caress of
the Gods.
Phorenice, with her quick, bright eyes, looked on, and
occasionally flung one or another a few words between her talk with
me, and now and again called some favoured creature up to receive
a scrap of viand from the royal dish. This the honoured one would
eat with extravagant gesture, or (as happened twice) would put it
away in the folds of his clothes as a treasure too dear to be
profaned by human lips.
To me, this flattery appeared gross and disgustful, but
Phorenice, through use, perhaps, seemed to take it as merely her
due. There was, one had to suppose, a weakness in her somewhere,
though truly to the outward seeing none was apparent. Her face was
strong enough, and it was subtle also, and, moreover, it was
wondrous comely. All the courtiers in the banqueting-hall raved
about Phorenice's face and the other beauties of her body and
limbs, and though not given to appreciation in these matters, I
could not but see that here at least they had a groundwork for
their admiration, for surely the Gods have never favoured mortal
woman more highly. Yet lovely though she might be, for myself I
preferred to look upon Ylga, the girl, who, because of her rank,
was privileged to sit on the divan behind us as immediate
attendant. There was an honesty in Ylga's face which Phorenice's
They did not eat to nutrify their bodies, these feasters in
the banqueting-hall of the royal pyramid, but they all ate to cloy
themselves, and they strutted forth new usages with every platter
and bowl that the slaves brought. To me some of their manners were
closely touching on disrespect. At the halfway of the meal, a
gorgeous popinjay--he was a governor of an out-province driven into
the capital by a rebellion in his own lands--this gorgeous fop, I
say, walked up between the groups of feasters with flushed face and
unsteady gait, and did obeisance before the divan. "Most
astounding Empress," cried he, "fairest among the Goddesses, Queen
regnant of my adoring heart, hail!"
Phorenice with a smile stretched him out her cup. I looked to
see him pour respectful libation, but no such thing. He set the
drink to his lips and drained it to the final drop. "May all your
troubles," he cried, "pass from you as easily, and leave as
pleasant a flavour."
The Empress turned to me with one of her quick looks. "You do
not like this new habit?"
To which I replied bluntly enough that to pour out liquor at
a person's feet had grown through custom to be a mark of respect,
but that drinking it seemed to me mere self-indulgence, which might
be practised anywhere.
"You still keep to the old austere teachings," she said. "Our
newer code bids us enjoy life first, and order other things so as
not to meddle with our more immediate pleasure."
And so the feast went on, the guests practising their
gluttonies and their absurdities, and the guards standing to their
arms round the circuit of the walls as motionless and as stern as
the statues carven in the white stone beyond them. But a term was
put to the orgy with something of suddenness. There was a stir at
the farther doorway of the banqueting-hall, and a clash, as two of
the guards joined their spears across the entrance. But the man
they tried to stop--or perhaps it was to pin--passed them unharmed,
and walked up over the pavement between the lights, and the groups
of feasters. All looked round at him; a few threw him ribald
words; but none ventured to stop his progress. A few, women
chiefly, I could see, shuddered as he passed them by, as though a
wintry chill had come over them; and in the end he walked up and
stood in front of Phorenice's divan, and gazed fixedly on her, but
without making obeisance.
He was a frail old man, with white hair tumbling on his
shoulders, and ragged white beard. The mud of wayfaring hung in
clots on his feet and legs. His wizened body was bare save for a
single cloth wound about his shoulders and his loins, and he
carried in his hand a wand with the symbol of our Lord the Sun
glowing at its tip. That wand went to show his caste, but in no
other way could I recognize him.
I took him for one of those ascetics of the Priests' Clan, who
had forsworn the steady nurtured life of the Sacred Mountain, and
who lived out in the dangerous lands amongst the burning hills,
where there is daily peril from falling rocks, from fire streams,
from evil vapours, from sudden fissuring of the ground, and from
other movements of those unstable territories, and from the greater
lizards and other monstrous beasts which haunt them. These keep
constant in the memory the might of the Holy Gods, and the
insecurity of this frail earth on which we have our resting-place,
and so the sojourners there become chastened in the spirit, and
gain power over mysteries which even the most studious and learned
of other men can never hope to attain.
A silence filled the room when the old man came to his halt,
and Phorenice was the first to break it. "Those two guards," she
said, in her clear, carrying voice, "who held the door, are not
equal to their work. I cannot have imperfect servants; remove
The soldiers next in the rank lifted their spears and drove
them home, and the two fellows who had admitted the old man fell to
the ground. One shrieked once, the other gave no sound: they were
clever thrusts both.
The old man found his voice, thin, and high, and broken.
"Another crime added to your tally, Phorenice. Not half your army
could have hindered my entrance had I wished to come, and let me
tell you that I am here to bring you your last warning. The Gods
have shown you much favour; they gave you merit by which you could
rise above your fellows, till at last only the throne stood above
you. It was seen good by those on the Sacred Mountain to let you
have this last ambition, and sit on this throne that has as long
and honourably been filled by the ancient kings of Atlantis."
The Empress sat back on the divan smiling. "I seemed to get
these things as I chose, and in spite of your friends' teeth. I
may owe to you, old man, a small parcel of thanks, though that I
offered to repay; but for my lords the priests, their permission
was of small enough value when it came. I would have you remember
that I was as firm on the throne of Atlantis as this pyramid stands
upon its base when your worn-out priests came up to give their
tottering benediction."
The old man waved aside her interruption. "Hear me out," he
said. "I am here with no trivial message. There is nothing paltry
about the threat I can throw at you, Phorenice. With your
fire-tubes, your handling of troops, and your other fiendish
clevernesses, you may not be easy to overthrow by mere human means,
though, forsooth, these poor rebels who yap against your city walls
have contrived to hold their ground for long enough now. It may be
that you are becoming enervated; I do not know. It may be that you
are too wrapped up in your feastings, your dressings, your pomps,
and your debaucheries, to find leisure to turn to the art of war.
It may be that the man's spirit has gone out from your arm and
brain, and you are a woman once more--weak, and pleasure-loving;
again I do not know.
"But this must happen: You must undo the evil you have done;
you must give bread to the people who are starving, even if you
take it from these gluttons in this hall; you must restore Atlantis
to the state in which it was entrusted to you: or else you must be
removed. It cannot be permitted that the country should sink back
into the lawlessness and barbarism from which its ancient kings
have digged it. You hear, Phorenice. Now give me true answer."
"Speak him fair. Oh! For the sake of your fortune, speak him
fair," came Ylga's voice in a hurried whisper from behind us. But
the Empress took no notice of it. She leaned forward on the
cushions of the divan with a knit brow.
"Do you dare to threaten me, old man, knowing what I am?"
"I know your origin," he said gravely, "as well as you know it
yourself. As for my daring, that is a small matter. He need be
but a timid man who dares to say words that the High Gods put on
his lips."
"I shall rule this kingdom as I choose. I shall brook
interference from no creature on this earth, or beneath it, or in
the sky above. The Gods have chosen me to be Their regent in
Atlantis, and They do not depose me through such creatures as you.
Go away, old man, and play the fanatic in another court. It is
well that I have an ancient kindliness for you, or you would not
leave this place unharmed."
"Now, indeed, you are lost," I heard Ylga murmur from behind,
and the old man in front of us did not move a step. Instead, he
lifted up the Symbol of our Lord the Sun, and launched his curse.
"Your blasphemy gives the reply I asked for. Hear me now make
declaration of war on behalf of Those against whom you have thrown
your insults. You shall be overthrown and sent to the nether Gods.
At whatever cost the land shall be purged of you and yours, and all
the evil that has been done to it whilst you have sullied the
throne of its ancient kings. You will not amend, neither will you
yield tamely. You vaunt that you sit as firm on your throne as
this pyramid reposes on its base. See how little you know of what
the future carries. I say to you that, whilst you are yet Empress,
you shall see this royal pyramid which you have polluted with your
debaucheries torn tier from tier, and stone from stone, and
scattered as feathers spread before a wind."
"You may wreck the pyramid," said Phorenice contemptuously.
"I myself have some knowledge of the earth forces, as I have shown
this night. But though you crumble every stone above us now and
grind it into grit and dust, I shall still be Empress. What force
can you crazy priests bring against me that I cannot throw back and
"We have a weapon that was forged in no mortal smithy,"
shrilled the old man, "whereof the key is now lodged in the Ark of
the Mysteries. But that weapon can be used only as a last
resource. The nature of it even is too awful to be told in words.
Our other powers will be launched against you first, and for this
poor country's sake I pray that they may cause you to wince. Yet
rest assured, Phorenice, that we shall not step aside once we have
put a hand to this matter. We shall carry it through, even though
the cost be a universal burning and destruction. For know this,
daughter of the swineherd, it is agreed amongst the most High Gods
that you are too full of sin to continue unchecked."
"Speak him fairly," Ylga urged from behind. "He has a power
at which you cannot even guess."
The Empress made to rise, but Ylga clung to her skirt. "For
the sake of your fame," she urged, "for the sake of your life, do
not defy him." But Phorenice struck her fiercely aside, and faced
the old man in a tumult of passion. "You dare call me a
blasphemer, who blaspheme yourself? You dare cast slurs upon my
birth, who am come direct from the most high Heaven? Old man, your
craziness protects you in part, but not in all. You shall be
whipped. Do you hear me? I say, whipped. The lean flesh shall be
scourged from your scraggy bones, and you shall totter away from
this place as a red and bleeding example for those who would dare
traduce their Empress. Here, some of you, I say, take that man,
and let him be whipped where he stands."
Her cry went out clearly enough. But not a soul amongst those
glittering feasters stirred in his place. Not a soldier amongst
the guards stepped from his rank. The place was hung in a terrible
silence. It seemed as though no one within the hall dared so much
as to draw a breath. All felt that the very air was big with fate.
Phorenice, with her head crouched forward, looked from one
group to another. Her face was working. "Have I no true
servants," she asked, "amongst all you pretty lip-servers?"
Still no one moved. They stood, or sat, or crouched like
people fascinated. For myself, with the first words he had
uttered, I had recognized the old man by his voice. It was Zaemon,
the weak governor who had given the Empress her first step towards
power; that earnest searcher into the mysteries, who knew more of
their powers, and more about the hidden forces, than any other
dweller on the Sacred Mountain, even at that time when I left for
my colony. And now, during his strange hermit life, how much more
might he not have learned? I was torn by warring duties. I owed
much to the Priests' Clan, by reason of my oath and membership; it
seemed I owed no less to Phorenice. And, again, was Zaemon the
truly accredited envoy of the high council of the priests of the
Sacred Mountain? And was the Empress of a truth deposed by the
High Gods above, or was she still Empress, and still the commander
of my duty? I could not tell, and so I sat in my seat awaiting
what the event would sow.
Phorenice's fury was growing. "Do I stand alone here?" she
cried. "Have I pampered you creatures out of all touch with
gratitude? It seems that at last I want a new chief to my guards.
Ho! Who will be chief of the guards of the Empress?"
There was a shifting of eyes, a hesitation. Then a great
burly form strode up from the farther end of the hall, and a
perceptible shudder went up from all the others as they watched
"So, Tarca, you prefer to take the risks, and remain chief of
the guard yourself?" she said with an angry scoff. "Truly there
did not seem to be many thrusting forward to strip you of the
office. I shall have a fine sorting up of places in payment for
this night's work. But for the present, Tarca, do your duty."
The man came up, obviously timorous. He was a solidly made
fellow, but not altogether unmartial, and though but little of his
cheek showed above his decorated beard, I could see that he paled
as he came near to the priest. "My lord," he said quietly, "I must
ask you to come with me."
"Stand aside," said the old man, thrusting out the Symbol in
front of him. I could see his eyes gather on the soldier and his
brows knit with a strain of will.
Tarca saw this too, and I thought he would have fallen, but
with an effort he kept his manhood, and doggedly repeated his
summons. "I must obey the command of my mistress, and I would have
you remember, my lord, that I am but a servant. You must come with
me to the whip."
"I warn you!" cried the old man. "Stand from out of my path,
It must have been with the courage of desperation that the
soldier dared to use force. But the hand he stretched out dropped
limply back to his side the moment it touched the old man's bare
shoulder, as though it had been struck by some shock. He seemed
almost to have expected some such repulse; yet when he picked up
that hand with the other, and looked at it, and saw its whiteness,
he let out of him a yell like a wounded beast. "Oh, Gods!" he
cried. "Not that. Spare me!"
But Zaemon was glowering at him still. A twitching seized the
man's face, and he put up his sound hand to it and plucked at his
beard, which was curled and plaited after the new fashion of the
day. A woman standing near screamed as the half of the beard came
off in his fingers. Beneath was silver whiteness over half his
face. Zaemon had smitten him with a sudden leprosy that was past
Yet the punishment was not ended even then. Other twitchings
took him on other parts of the body, and he tore off his armour and
his foppish clothes, and always where the bare flesh showed, there
had the horrid plague written its white mark; and in the end, being
able to endure no more, the man fell to the pavement and lay there
Zaemon said no further word. He lifted the Symbol before him,
set his eyes on the farther door of the banqueting-hall and walked
for it directly, all those in his path shrinking away from him with
open shudders. And through the valves of the door he passed out of
our sight, still wordless, still unchecked.
I glanced up at Phorenice. The loveliness of her face was
drawn and haggard. It was the first great reverse, this, she had
met with in all her life, and the shock of it, and the vision of
what might follow after, dazed her. Alas, if she could only have
guessed at a tenth of the terrors which the future had in its womb,
Atlantis might have been saved even then.
Here then was the manner of my reception back in the capital
of Atlantis, and some first glimpse at her new policies. I freely
confess to my own inaction and limpness; but it was all deliberate.
The old ties of duty seemed lost, or at least merged in one
another. Beforetime, to serve the king was to serve the Clan of
the Priests, from which he had been chosen, and whose head he
constituted. But Phorenice was self-made, and appeared to be a
rule unto herself; if Zaemon was to be trusted, he was the
mouthpiece of the Priests, and their Clan had set her at defiance;
and how was a mere honest man to choose on the instant between the
But cold argument told me that governments were set up for the
good of the country at large, and I said to myself that there would
be my choice. I must find out which rule promised best of
Atlantis, and do my poor best to prop it into full power. And here
at once there opened up another path in the maze: I had heard some
considerable talk of rebels; of another faction of Atlanteans who,
whatever their faults might be, were at any rate strong enough to
beleaguer the capital; and before coming to any final decision, it
would be as well to take their claims in balance with the rest. So
on the night of that very same day on which I had just re-planted
my foot on the old country's shores, I set out to glean for myself
tidings on the matter.
No one inside the royal pyramid gainsaid me. The banquet had
ended abruptly with the terrible scene that I have set down above
on these tablets, for with Tarca writhing on the floor, and
thrusting out the gruesome scars of his leprosy, even the most
gluttonous had little enough appetite for further gorging.
Phorenice glowered on the feasters for a while longer in silent
fury, but saying no further word; and then her eyes turned on me,
though softened somewhat.
"You may be an honest man, Deucalion," she said, at length,
"but you are a monstrous cold one. I wonder when you will thaw?"
And here she smiled. "I think it will be soon. But for now I bid
you farewell. In the morning we will take this country by the
shoulders, and see it in some new order."
She left the banqueting-hall then, Ylga following; and taking
precedence of my rank, I went out next, whilst all others stood and
made salutation. But I halted by Tarca first, and put my hand on
his unclean flesh. "You are an unfortunate man," I said, "but I can
admire a brave soldier. If relief can be gained for your plague,
I will use interest to procure it for you."
The man's thanks came in a mumble from his wrecked mouth, and
some of those near shuddered in affected disgust. I turned on them
with a black brow: "Your charity, my lords, seems of as small
account as your courage. You affected a fine disbelief of Zaemon's
sayings, and a simpering contempt for his priesthood, but when it
comes to laying a hand on him, you show a discretion which, in the
old days, we should have called by an ugly name. I had rather be
Tarca, with all his uncleanness, than any of you now as you stand."
With which leave-taking I waited coldly till they gave me my
due salutation, and then walked out of the banqueting-hall without
offering a soul another glance. I took my way to the grand gate of
the pyramid, called for the officer of the guard, and demanded
exit. The man was obsequious enough, but he opened with some
"My lord's attendants have not yet come up?"
"I have none."
"My lord knows the state of the streets?"
"I did twenty years back. I shall be able to pick my way."
"My lord must remember that the city is beleaguered," the
fellow persisted. "The people are hungry. They prowl in bands
after nightfall, and--I make no question that my lord would conquer
in a fight against whatever odds, but--"
"Quite right. I covet no street scuffle to-night. Lend me,
I pray you, a sufficiency of men. You will know best what are
needed. For me, I am accustomed to a city with quiet streets."
A score of sturdy fellows were detailed off for my escort, and
with them in a double file on either hand, I marched out from the
close perfumed air of the pyramid into the cool moonlight of the
city. It was my purpose to make a tour of the walls and to find
out somewhat of the disposition of these rebels.
But the Gods saw fit to give me another education first. The
city, as I saw it during that night walk, was no longer the old
capital that I had known, the just accretion of the ages, the due
admixture of comfort and splendour. The splendour was there,
vastly increased. Whole wards had been swept away to make space
for new palaces, and new pyramids of the wealthy, and I could not
but have an admiration for the skill and the brain which made
possible such splendid monuments.
And, indeed, gazing at them there under the silver of the
moonlight, I could almost understand the emotions of the Europeans
and other barbarous savages which cause them to worship all such
great buildings as Gods, since they deem them too wonderful and
majestic to be set up by human hands unaided.
Still, if it was easy to admire, it was simple also to see
plain advertisement of the cost at which these great works had been
reared. From each grant of ground, where one of these stately
piles earned silver under the moon, a hundred families had been
evicted and left to harbour as they pleased in the open; and, as a
consequence, now every niche had its quota of sleepers, and every
shadow its squad of fierce wild creatures, ready to rush out and
rob or slay all wayfarers of less force than their own.
Myself, I am no pamperer of the common people. I say that, if
a man be left to hunger and shiver, he will work to gain him food
and raiment; and if not, why then he can die, and the State is well
rid of a worthless fellow. But here beside us, as we marched
through many wards, were marks of blind oppression; starved dead
bodies, with the bones starting through the lean skin, sprawled in
the gutter; and indeed it was plain that, save for the favoured
few, the people of the great capital were under a most heavy
But at this, though I might regret it abominably, I could make
no strong complaint. By the ancient law of the land all the
people, great and small, were the servants of the king, to be put
without question to what purposes he chose; and Phorenice stood in
the place of the king. So I tried to think no treason, but with a
sigh passed on, keeping my eyes above the miseries and the squalors
of the roadway, and sending out my thoughts to the stars which hung
in the purple night above, and to the High Gods which dwelt amongst
them, seeking, if it might be, for guidance for my future policies.
And so in time the windings of the streets brought us to the walls,
and, coursing beside these and giving fitting answer to the
sentries who beat their drums as we passed, we came in time to that
great gate which was a charge to the captain of the garrison.
Here it was plain there was some special commotion. A noise
of laughter went up into the still night air, and with it now and
again the snarl and roar of a great beast, and now and again the
shriek of a hurt man. But whatever might be afoot, it was not a
scene to come upon suddenly. The entrance gates of our great
capital were designed by their ancient builders to be no less
strong than the walls themselves. Four pairs of valves were there,
each a monstrous block of stone two man-heights square, and a
man-height thick, and the wall was doubled to receive them,
enclosing an open circus between its two parts. The four gates
themselves were set one at the inner, one at the outer side of each
of these walls, and a hidden machinery so connected them, that of
each set one could not open till the other was closed; and as for
forcing them without war engines, one might as foolishly try to
push down the royal pyramid with the bare hand.
My escort made outcry with the horn which hung from the wall
inviting such a summons, and a warder came to an arrow-slit, and
did inspection of our persons and business. His survey was
according to the ancient form of words, which is long, and this was
made still more tedious by the noise from within, which ever and
again drowned all speech between us entirely.
But at last the formalities had been duly complied with, and
he shot back the massive bars and bolts of stone, and threw ajar
one monstrous stone valve of the door. Into the chamber within--a
chamber made from the thickness of the wall between the two
doors--I and my fellows crowded, and then the warder with his
machines pulled to the valve which had been opened, and came to me
again through the press of my escort, bowing low to the ground.
"I have no vail to give you," I said abruptly. "Get on with
your duty. Open me that other door."
"With respect, my lord, it would be better that I should first
announce my lord's presence. There is a baiting going forward in
the circus, and the tigers are as yet mere savages, and no
respecters of persons."
"The what?"
"The tigers, if my lord will permit them the name. They are
baiting a batch of prisoners with the two great beasts which the
Empress (whose name be adored) has sent here to aid us keep the
gate. But if my lord will, there are the ward rooms leading off
this passage, and the galleries which run out from them commanding
the circus, and from there my lord can see the sport undisturbed."
Now, the mere lust for killing excites only disgust in me, but
I suspected the orders of the Empress in this matter, and had a
curiosity to see her scheme. So I stepped into the warder's lodge,
and on into the galleries which commanded the circus with their
arrow-slits. The old builders of the place had intended these for
a second line of defence, for, supposing the outer doors all
forced, an enemy could be speedily shot down in the circus, without
being able to give a blow in return, and so would only march into
a death-trap. But as a gazing-place on a spectacle they were no
less useful.
The circus was bright lit by the moonlight, and the air which
came in to me from it was acrid with the reek of blood. There was
no sport in what was going forward: as I said, it was mere killing,
and the sight disgusted me. I am no prude about this matter. Give
a prisoner his weapons, put him in a pit with beasts of reasonable
strength, and let him fight to a finish if you choose, and I can
look on there and applaud the strokes. The war prisoner, being a
prisoner, has earned death by natural law, and prefers to get his
last stroke in hot blood than to be knocked down by the headsman's
axe. And it is any brave man's luxury either to help or watch a
lusty fight. But this baiting in the circus between the gates was
no fair battle like that.
To begin with, the beasts were no fair antagonists for single
men. In fact, twenty men armed might well have fled from them.
When the warder said tigers, I supposed he meant the great cats of
the woods. But here, in the circus, I saw a pair of the most
terrific of all the fur-bearing land beasts, the great tigers of
the caves--huge monsters, of such ponderous strength that in hunger
they will oftentimes drag down a mammoth, if they can find him away
from his herd.
How they had been brought captive I could not tell. Hunter of
beasts though I had been for all my days, I take no shame in saying
that I always approached the slaying of a cave-tiger with
stratagem and infinite caution. To entrap it alive and bring it
to a city on a chain was beyond my most daring schemes, and I have
been accredited with more new things than one. But here it was in
fact, and I saw in these captive beasts a new certificate for
Phorenice's genius.
The purpose of these two cave-tigers was plain: whilst they
were in the circus, and loose, no living being could cross from one
gate to the other. They were a new and sturdy addition to the
defences of the capital. A collar of bronze was round the throat
of each, and on the collar was a massive chain which led to the
wall, where it could be payed out or hauled in by means of a
windlass in one of the hidden galleries. So that at ordinary
moments the two huge beasts could be tethered, one close to either
end of the circus, as the litter of bones and other messes showed,
leaving free passage-way between the two sets of doors.
But when I stood there by the arrow-slit, looking down into
the moonlight of the circus, these chains were slackened (though
men stood by the windlass of each), and the great striped brutes
were prowling about the circus with the links clanking and chinking
in their wake. Lying stark on the pavement were the bodies of some
eight men, dead and uneaten; and though the cave-tigers stopped
their prowlings now and again to nuzzle these, and beat them about
with playful paw-blows, they made no pretence at commencing a meal.
It was clear that this cruel sport had grown common to them, and
they knew there were other victims yet to be added to the tally.
Presently, sure enough, as I watched, a valve of the farther
gate swung back an arm's length, and a prisoner, furiously
resisting, was thrust out into the circus. He fell on his face,
and after one look around him he lay resolutely still, with eyes on
the ground passively awaiting his fate. The ponderous stone of the
gate clapped to in its place; the cave-tigers turned in their
prowlings; and a chatter of wagers ran to and fro amongst the
watchers behind the arrow-slits.
It seemed there were niceties of cruelty in this wretched
game. There was a sharp clank as the windlasses were manned, and
the tethering chains were drawn in by perhaps a score of links.
One of the cave-tigers crouched, lashed its tail, and launched
forth on a terrific spring. The chain tautened, the massive links
sang to the strain, and the great beast gave a roar which shook the
walls. It had missed the prone man by a hand's breadth, and the
watchers behind the arrow-slits shrieked forth their delight. The
other tiger sprang also and missed, and again there were shouts of
pleasure, which mingled with the bellowing voices of the beasts.
The man lay motionless in his form. One more cowardly, or one more
brave, might have run from death, or faced it; but this poor
prisoner chose the middle course--he permitted death to come to
him, and had enough of doggedness to wait for it without stir.
The great cave-tigers were used, it appeared, to this disgusting
sport. There were no more wild springs, no more stubbings at
the end of the massive chains. They lay down on the pavement,
and presently began to purr, rolling on to their sides and
rubbing themselves luxuriously. The prisoner still lay
motionless in his form.
By slow degrees the monstrous brutes each drew to the end of
its chain and began to reach at the man with out-stretched forepaw.
The male could not touch him; the female could just reach him with
the far tip of a claw; and I saw a red scratch start up in the bare
skin of his side at every stroke. But still the prisoner would not
stir. It seemed to me that they must slack out more links of one
of the tigers' chains, or let the vile play linger into mere
But I had more to learn yet. The male tiger, either taught by
his own devilishness, or by those brutes that were his keepers, had
still another ruse in store. He rose to his feet and turned round,
backing against the chain. A yell of applause from the hidden men
behind the arrow-slits told that they knew what was in store; and
then the monstrous beast, stretched to the utmost of its vast
length, kicked sharply with one hind paw.
I heard the crunch of the prisoner's ribs as the pads struck
him, and at that same moment the poor wretch's body was spurned
away by the blow, as one might throw a fruit with the hand. But it
did not travel far. It was clear that the she-tiger knew this
manoeuvre of her mate's. She caught the man on his bound, nuzzling
over him for a minute, and then tossing him high into the air, and
leaping up to the full of her splendid height after him.
Those other onlookers thought it magnificent; their gleeful
shouts said as much. But for me, my gorge rose at the sight. Once
the tigers had reached him, the man had been killed, it is true,
without any unnecessary lingering. Even a light blow from those
terrific paws would slay the strongest man living. But to see the
two cave-tigers toying with the poor body was an insult to the
pride of our race.
However, I was not there to preach the superiority of man to
the beasts, and the indecency and degradation of permitting man to
be unduly insulted. I had come to learn for myself the new balance
of things in the kingdom of Atlantis, and so I stood at my place
behind the arrow-slit with a still face. And presently another
scene in this ghastly play was enacted.
The cave-tigers tired of their sport, and first one and then
the other fell once more to prowling over the littered pavements,
with the heavy chains scraping and chinking in their wake. They
made no beginning to feast on the bodies provided for them. That
would be for afterwards. In the present, the fascination of
slaughter was big in them, and they had thought that it would be
indulged further. It seemed that they knew their entertainers.
Again the windlass clanked, and the tethering chains drew the
great beasts clear of the doorway; and again a valve of the farther
door swung ajar, and another prisoner was thrust struggling into
the circus. A sickness seized me when I saw that this was a woman,
but still, in view of the object I had in hand, I made no
It was not that I had never seen women sent to death before.
A general, who has done his fighting, must in his day have killed
women equally with men; yes, and seen them earn their death-blow by
lusty battling. Yet there seemed something so wanton in this cruel
helpless sacrifice of a woman prisoner, that I had a struggle with
myself to avoid interference. Still it is ever the case that the
individual must be sacrificed to a policy, and so as I say, I
watched on, outwardly cold and impassive.
I watched too (I confess it freely) with a quickening heart.
Here was no sullen submissive victim like the last. She may have
been more cowardly (as some women are), she may have been braver
(as many women have shown themselves); but, at any rate, it was
clear that she was going to make a struggle for her life, and to do
vicious damage, it might be, before she yielded it up. The
watchers behind the arrow-slits recognized this. Their wagers, and
the hum of their appreciation, swept loudly round the ring of the
They stripped their prisoners, before they thrust them out to
this death, of all the clothes they might carry, for clothes have
a value; and so the woman stood there bare-limbed in the moonlight.
She clapped her back to the great stone door by which she had
entered, and faced fate with glowing eye. Gods! there have been
times in early years when I could have plucked out sword and jumped
down, and fought for her there for the sheer delight of such a
battle. But now policy restrained me. The individual might want
a helping hand, but it was becoming more and more clear that
Atlantis wanted a minister also; and before these great needs, the
lesser ones perforce must perish. Still, be it noted that, if I
did not jump down, no other man there that night had sufficient
manhood remaining to venture the opportunity.
My heart glowed as I watched her. She picked a bone from the
litter on the pavement and beat off its head by blows against the
wall. Then with her teeth she fashioned the point to still further
sharpness. I could see her teeth glisten white in the moonrays as
she bit with them.
The huge cave-tigers, which stood as high as her head as they
walked, came nearer to her in their prowlings, yet obviously
neglected her. This was part of their accustomed scheme of
torment, and the woman knew it well. There was something
intolerable in their noiseless, ceaseless paddings over the
pavement. I could see the prisoner's breast heave as she watched
them. A terror such as that would have made many a victim sick and
But this one was bolder than I had thought. She did not wait
for a spring: she made the first attack herself. When the
she-tiger made its stroll towards her, and was in the act of
turning, she flung herself into a sudden leap, striking viciously
at its eye with her sharpened bone. A roar from the onlookers
acknowledged the stroke. The cave-tiger's eye remained undarkened,
but the puny weapon had dealt it a smart flesh wound, and with a
great bellow of surprise and pain it scampered away to gain space
for a rush and a spring.
But the woman did not await its charge. With a shrill scream
she sped forward, running at the full of her speed across the
moonlight directly towards that shadowed part of the encircling
wall within whose thickness I had my gazing place; and then,
throwing every tendon of her body into the spring, made the
greatest leap that surely any human being ever accomplished, even
when spurred on by the utmost of terror and desperation. In an
after day I measured it, and though of a certainty she must have
added much to the tally by the sheer force of her run, which drove
her clinging up the rough surface of the wall, it is a sure thing
that in that splendid leap her feet must have dangled a man-height
and a half above the pavement.
I say it was prodigious, but then the spur was more than the
ordinary, and the woman herself was far out of the common both in
thews and intelligence; and the end of the leap left her with five
fingers lodged in the sill of the arrow-slit from which I watched.
Even then she must have slipped back if she had been left to
herself, for the sill sloped, and the stone was finely smooth; but
I shot out my hand and gripped hers by the wrist, and instantly she
clambered up with both knees on the sills, and her fingers twined
round to grip my wrist in her turn.
And now you will suppose she gushed out prayers and promises,
thinking only of safety and enlargement. There was nothing of
this. With savage panting wordlessness she took fresh grip on the
sharpened bone with her spare hand, and lunged with it desperately
through the arrow-slit. With the hand that clutched mine she drew
me towards her, so as to give the blows the surer chance, and so
unprepared was I for such an attack, and with such fierce
suddenness did she deliver it, that the first blow was near giving
me my quietus. But I grappled with the poor frantic creature as
gently as might be--the stone of the wall separating us always--and
stripped her of her weapon, and held her firmly captive till she
might calm herself.
"That was an ungrateful blow," I said. "But for my hand you'd
have slipped and be the sport of a tiger's paw this minute."
"Oh, I must kill some one," she panted, "before I am killed
"There will be time enough to think upon that some other day;
but for now you are far enough off meeting further harm."
"You are lying to me. You will throw me to the beasts as soon
as I loose my grip. I know your kind: you will not be robbed of
your sport."
"I will go so far as to prove myself to you," said I, and
called out for the warder who had tended the doors below. "Bid
those tigers be tethered on a shorter chain," I ordered, "and then
go yourself outside into the circus, and help this lady delicately
to the ground."
The word was passed and these things were done; and I too came
out into the circus and joined the woman, who stood waiting under
the moonlight. But the others who had seen these doings were by no
means suited at the change of plan. One of the great stone valves
of the farther door opened hurriedly, and a man strode out, armed
and flushed. "By all the Gods!" he shouted. "Who comes between me
and my pastime?"
I stepped quietly to the advance. "I fear, sir," I said,
"that you must launch your anger against me. By accident I gave
that woman sanctuary, and I had not heart to toss her back to your
His fingers began to snap against his hilt.
"You have come to the wrong market here with your qualms. I
am captain here, and my word carries, subject only to Phorenice's
nod. Do you hear that? Do you know too that I can have you tossed
to those striped gate-keepers of mine for meddling in here without
an invitation?" He looked at me sharp enough, but saw plainly that
I was a stranger. "But perhaps you carry a name, my man, which
warrants your impertinence?"
"Deucalion is my poor name," I said, "but I cannot expect you
will know it. I am but newly landed here, sir, and when I left
Atlantis some score of years back, a very different man to you held
guard over these gates." He had his forehead on my feet by this
time. "I had it from the Empress this night that she will
to-morrow make a new sorting of this kingdom's dignities. Perhaps
there is some recommendation you would wish me to lay before her in
return for your courtesies?"
"My lord," said the man, "if you wish it, I can have a turn
with those cave-tigers myself now, and you can look on from behind
the walls and see them tear me."
"Why tell me what is no news?"
"I wish to remind my lord of his power; I wish to beg of his
"You showed your power to these poor prisoners; but from what
remains here to be seen, few of them have tasted much of your
"The orders were," said the captain of the gate, as though he
thought a word might be said here for his defence, "the orders
were, my lord, that the tigers should be kept fierce and accustomed
to killing."
"Then, if you have obeyed orders, let me be the last to chide
you. But it is my pleasure that this woman be respited, and I wish
now to question her."
The man got to his feet again with obvious relief, though
still bowing low.
"Then if my lord will honour me by sitting in my room that
overlooks the outer gate, the favour will never be forgotten."
"Show the way," I said, and took the woman by the fingers,
leading her gently. At the two ends of the circus the tigers
prowled about on short chains, growling and muttering.
We passed through the door into the thickness of the outer
wall, and the captain of the gate led us into his private chamber,
a snug enough box overlooking the plain beyond the city. He lit a
torch from his lamp and thrust it into a bracket on the wall, and
bowing deeply and walking backwards, left us alone, closing the
door in place behind him. He was an industrious fellow, this
captain, to judge from the spoil with which his chamber was packed.
There could have come very few traders in through that gate below
without his levying a private tribute; and so, judging that most of
his goods had been unlawfully come by, I had little qualm at making
a selection. It was not decent that the woman, being an Atlantean,
should go bereft of the dignity of clothes, as though she were a
mere savage from Europe; and so I sought about amongst the
captain's spoil for garments that would be befitting.
But, as I busied myself in this search for raiment, rummaging
amongst the heaps and bales, with a hand and eye little skilled in
such business, I heard a sound behind which caused me to turn my
head, and there was the woman with a dagger she had picked from the
floor, in the act of drawing it from the sheath.
She caught my eye and drew the weapon clear, but seeing that
I made no advance towards her, or move to protect myself, waited
where she was, and presently was took with a shuddering.
"Your designs seem somewhat of a riddle," I said. "At first
you wished to kill me from motives which you explained, and which
I quite understood. It lay in my power next to confer some small
benefit upon you, in consequence of which you are here, and
not--shall we say?--yonder in the circus. Why you should desire
now to kill the only man here who can set you completely free, and
beyond these walls, is a thing it would gratify me much to learn.
I say nothing of the trifle of ingratitude. Gratitude and
ingratitude are of little weight here. There is some far greater
in your mind."
She pressed a hand hard against her breasts. "You are
Deucalion," she gasped; "I heard you say it."
"I am Deucalion. So far, I have known no reason to feel shame
for my name."
"And I come of those," she cried, with a rising voice, "who
bite against this city, because they have found their fate too
intolerable with the land as it is ordered now. We heard of your
coming from Yucatan. It was we who sent the fleet to take you at
the entrance to the Gulf."
"Your fleet gave us a pretty fight."
"Oh, I know, I know. We had our watchers on the high land who
brought us the tidings. We had an omen even before that. Where we
lay with our army before the walls here, we saw great birds
carrying off the slain to the mountains. But where the fleet
failed, I saw a chance where I, a woman, might--"
"Where you might succeed?" I sat me down on a pile of the
captain's stuffs. It seemed as if here at last that I should find
a solution for many things. "You carry a name?" I asked.
"They call me Nais."
"Ah," I said, and signed to her to take the clothes that I had
sought out. She was curiously like, so both my eyes and hearing
said, to Ylga, the fan-girl of Phorenice, but as she had told me of
no parentage I asked for none then. Still her talk alone let me
know that she was bred of none of the common people, and I made up
my mind towards definite understanding. "Nais," I said, "you wish
to kill me. At the same time I have no doubt you wish to live on
yourself, if only to get credit from your people for what you have
done. So here I will make a contract with you. Prove to me that
my death is for Atlantis' good, and I swear by our Lord the Sun to
go out with you beyond the walls, where you can stab me and then
get you gone. Or the--"
"I will not be your slave."
"I do not ask you for service. Or else, I wished to say, I
shall live so long as the High Gods wish, and do my poor best for
this country. And for you--I shall set you free to do your best
also. So now, I pray you, speak."
"You will set me free," she said, regarding me from under her
brows, "without any further exactions or treaty?"
"I will set you free exactly on those terms," I answered,
"unless indeed we here decide that it is better for Atlantis that
I should die, in which case the freedom will be of your own
"My lord plays a bold game."
"Tut, tut," I said.
"But I shall not hesitate to take the full of my bond, unless
my theories are most clearly disproved to me."
"Tut," I said, "you women, how you can play out the time
needlessly. Show me sufficient cause, and you shall kill me where
and how you please. Come, begin the accusation."
"You are a tyrant."
"At least I have not paraded my tyrannies in Atlantis these
twenty years. Why, Nais, I did but land yesterday."
"You will not deny you came back from Yucatan for a purpose."
"I came back because I was sent for. The Empress gives no
reasons for her recalls. She states her will; and we who serve her
obey without question."
"Pah, I know that old dogma."
"If you discredit my poor honesty at the outset like this, I
fear we shall not get far with our unravelling."
"My lord must be indeed simple," said this strange woman
scornfully, "if he is ignorant of what all Atlantis knows."
"Then simple you must write me down. Over yonder in Yucatan
we were too well wrapped up in our own parochial needs and policies
to have leisure to ponder much over the slim news which drifted out
to us from Atlantis--and, in truth, little enough came. By
example, Phorenice (whose office be adored) is a great personage
here at home; but over there in the colony we barely knew so much
as her name. Here, since I have been ashore, I have seen many new
wonders; I have been carried by a riding mammoth; I have sat at a
banquet; but in what new policies there are afoot, I have yet to be
"Then, if truly you do not know it, let me repeat to you the
common tale. Phorenice has tired of her unmated life."
"Stay there. I will hear no word against the Empress."
"Pah, my lord, your scruples are most decorous. But I did no
more than repeat what the Empress had made public by proclamation.
She is minded to take to herself a husband, and nothing short of
the best is good enough for Phorenice. One after another has been
put up in turn as favourite--and been found wanting. Oh, I tell
you, we here in Atlantis have watched her courtship with jumping
hearts. First it was this one here, then it was that one there;
now it was this general just returned from a victory, and a day
later he had been packed back to his camp, to give place to some
dashing governor who had squeezed increased revenues from his
province. But every ship that came from the West said that there
was a stronger man than any of these in Yucatan, and at last the
Empress changed the wording of her vow. 'I'll have Deucalion for
my husband,' said she, 'and then we will see who can stand against
my wishes.'"
"The Empress (whose name be adored) can do as she pleases in
such matters," I said guardedly; "but that is beside the argument.
I am here to know how it would be better for Atlantis that I should
"You know you are the strongest man in the kingdom."
"It pleases you to say so."
"And Phorenice is the strongest woman."
"That is beyond doubt."
"Why, then, if the Empress takes you in marriage, we shall be
under a double tyranny. And her rule alone is more cruelly heavy
than we can bear already."
"I pass no criticism on Phorenice's rule. I have not seen it.
But I crave your mercy, Nais, on the newcomer into this kingdom.
I am strong, say you, and therefore I am a tyrant, say you. Now to
me this sequence is faulty."
"Who should a strong man use strength for, if not for himself?
And if for himself, why that spells tyranny. You will get all your
heart's desires, my lord, and you will forget that many a thousand
of the common people will have to pay for them."
"And this is all your accusation?"
"It seems to be black enough. I am one that has a compassion
for my fellow-men, my lord, and because of that compassion you see
me what I am to-day. There was a time, not long passed, when I
slept as soft and ate as dainty as any in Atlantis."
I smiled. "Your speech told me that much from the first."
"Then I would I had cast the speech off, too, if that is also
a livery of the tyrant's class. But I tell you I saw all the
oppression myself from the oppressor's side. I was high in
Phorenice's favour then."
"That, too, is easy of credence. Ylga is the fan-girl to the
Empress now, and second lady in the kingdom, and those who have
seen Ylga could make an easy guess at the parentage of Nais."
"We were the daughters of one birth; but I do not count with
either Zaemon or Ylga now. Ylga is the creature of Phorenice, and
Phorenice would have all the people of Atlantis slaves and in
chains, so that she might crush them the easier. And as for
Zaemon, he is no friend of Phorenice's; he fights with brain and
soul to drag the old authority to those on the Sacred Mountain; and
that, if it come down on us again, would only be the exchange of
one form of slavery for another."
"It seems to me you bite at all authority."
"In fact," she said simply, "I do. I have seen too much of it."
"And so you think a rule of no-rule would be best for the
"You have put it plainly in words for me. That is my creed
to-day. That is the creed of all those yonder, who sit in the camp
and besiege this city. And we number on our side, now, all in
Atlantis save those in the city and a handful on the priests'
I shook my head. "A creed of desperation, if you like, Nais,
but, believe me, a silly creed. Since man was born out of the
quakings and the fevers of this earth, and picked his way amongst
the cooler-places, he has been dependent always on his fellow-men.
And where two are congregated together, one must be chief, and
order how matters are to be governed--at least, I speak of men who
have a wish to be higher than the beasts. Have you ever set foot
in Europe?"
"I have. Years back I sailed there, gathering slaves. What
did I see? A country without rule or order. Tyrants they were, to
be sure, but they were the beasts. The men and the women were the
rudest savages, knowing nothing of the arts, dressing in skins and
uncleanness, harbouring in caves and the tree-tops. The beasts
roamed about where they would, and hunted them unchecked."
"Still, they fought you for their liberty?"
"Never once. They knew how disastrous was their masterless
freedom. Even to their dull, savage brains it was a sure thing
that no slavery could be worse; and to that state you, and your
friends, and your theories, will reduce Atlantis, if you get the
upper hand. But, then, to argue in a circle, you will never get
it. For to conquer, you must set up leaders, and once you have set
them up, you will never pull them down again."
"Aye," she said with a sigh, "there is truth in that last."
The torch had filled the captain's room with a resinous smoke,
but the flame was growing pale. Dawn was coming in greyly through
a slender arrow-slit, and with it ever and again the glow from some
mountain out of sight, which was shooting forth spasmodic bursts of
fire. With it also were mutterings of distant falling rocks, and
sullen tremblings, which had endured all the night through, and I
judged that earth was in one of her quaking moods, and would
probably during the forthcoming day offer us some chastening
On this account, perhaps, my senses were stilled to certain
evidences which would otherwise have given me a suspicion; and
also, there is no denying that my general wakefulness was sapped by
another matter. This woman, Nais, interested me vastly out of the
common; the mere presence of her seemed to warm the organs of my
interior; and whilst she was there, all my thoughts and senses were
present in the room of the captain of the gate in which we sat.
But of a sudden the floor of the chamber rocked and fell away
beneath me, and in a tumult of dust, and litter, and bales of the
captain's plunder, I fell down (still seated on the flagstone) into
a pit which had been digged beneath it. With the violence of the
descent, and the flutter of all these articles about my head, I was
in no condition for immediate action; and whilst I was still
half-stunned by the shock, and long before I could get my eyes into
service again, I had been seized, and bound, and half-strangled
with a noose of hide. Voices were raised that I should be
despatched at once out of the way; but one in authority cried out
that, killing me at leisure, and as a prisoner, promised more
genteel sport; and so I was thrust down on the floor, whilst a
whole army of men trod in over me to the attack.
What had happened was clear to me now, though I was powerless
to do anything in hindrance. The rebels with more craft than any
one had credited to them, had driven a galley from their camp under
the ground, intending so to make an entrance into the heart of the
city. In their clumsy ignorance, and having no one of sufficient
talent in mensuration, they had bungled sadly both in direction and
length, and so had ended their burrow under this chamber of the
captain of the gate. The great flagstone in its fall had, it
appeared, crushed four of them to death, but these were little
noticed or lamented. Life was to them a bauble of the slenderest
price, and a horde of others pressed through the opening, lusting
for the fight, and recking nothing of their risks and perils.
Half-choked by the foul air of the galley, and trodden on by
this great procession of feet, it was little enough I could do to
help my immediate self much less the more distant city. But when
the chief mass of the attackers had passed through, and there came
only here and there one eager to take his share at storming the
gate, a couple of fellows plucked me up out of the mud on the
floor, and began dragging me down through the stinking darkness of
the galley towards the pit that gave it entrance.
Twenty times we were jostled by others hastening to the
attack, either from hunger for fight, or from appetite for what
they could steal. But we came to the open at last, and
half-suffocated though I was, I contrived to do obeisance, and say
aloud the prescribed prayer to the most High Gods in gratitude for
the fresh, sweet air which They had provided.
Our Lord the Sun was on the verge of rising for His day, and
all things were plainly shown. Before me were the monstrous walls
of the capital, with the heads of its pyramids and higher buildings
showing above them. And on the walls, the sentries walked calmly
their appointed paces, or took shelter against arrows in the
casemates provided for them.
The din of fighting within the gate rose high into the air,
and the heavy roaring of the cave-tigers told that they too were
taking their share of the melee. But the massive stonework of the
walls hid all the actual engagement from our view, and which party
was getting the upper hand we could not even guess. But the sounds
told how tight a fight was being hammered out in those narrow
boundaries, and my veins tingled to be once more back at the old
trade, and to be doing my share.
But there was no chivalry about the fellows who held me by my
bonds. They thrust me into a small temple near by, which once had
been a fane in much favour with travellers, who wished to show
gratitude for the safe journey to the capital, but which now was
robbed and ruined, and they swung to the stone entrance gate and
barred it, leaving me to commune with myself. Presently, they told
me, I should be put to death by torments. Well, this seemed to be
the new custom of Atlantis, and I should have to endure it as best
I could. The High Gods, it appeared, had no further use for my
services in Atlantis, and I was not in the mood then to bite very
much at their decision. What I had seen of the country since my
return had not enamoured me very much with its new conditions.
The little temple in which I was gaoled had been robbed and
despoiled of all its furnishments. But the light-slits, where at
certain hours of the day the rays of our Lord the Sun had fallen
upon the image of the God, before this had been taken away, gave me
vantage places from which I could see over the camp of these rebel
besiegers, and a dreary prospect it was. The people seemed to have
shucked off the culture of centuries in as many months, and to have
gone back for the most part to sheer brutishness. The majority
harboured on the bare ground. Few owned shelter, and these were
merely bowers of mud and branches.
They fought and quarrelled amongst themselves for food, eating
their meat raw, and their grain (when they had it) unground. Many
who passed my vision I saw were even gnawing the soft inside of
tree bark.
The dead lay where they fell. The sick and the wounded found
no hand to tend them. Great man-eating birds hovered about the
camp or skulked about, heavy with gorging, amongst the hovels, and
no one had public spirit enough to give them battle. The stink of
the place rose up to heaven as a foul incense inviting a
pestilence. There was no order, no trace of strong command
anywhere. With three hundred well-disciplined troops it seemed to
me that I could have sent those poor desperate hordes flying in
panic to the forest.
However, there was no very lengthy space of time granted me
for thinking out the policy of this matter to any great depth. The
attack on the gate had been delivered with suddenness; the repulse
was not slow. Of what desperate fighting took place in the
galleries, and in the circus between the two sets of gates, the
detail will never be told in full.
At the first alarm the great cave-tigers were set loose, and
these raged impartially against keeper and foe. Of those that went
in through the tunnel, not one in ten returned, and there were few
of these but what carried a bloody wound. Some, with the ruling
passion still strong in them, bore back plunder; one trailed along
with him the head of the captain of the gate; and amongst them they
dragged out two of the warders who were wounded, and whom revenge
had urged them to take as prisoners.
Over these two last a hubbub now arose, that seemed likely to
boil over into blows. Every voice shouted out for them what he
thought the most repulsive fate. Some were for burning, some for
skinning, some for impaling, some for other things: my flesh crept
as I heard their ravenous yells. Those that had been to the
trouble of making them captive were still breathless from the
fight, and were readily thrust aside; and it seemed to me that the
poor wretches would be hustled into death before any definite fate
was agreed upon, which all would pass as sufficiently terrific.
Never had I seen such a disorderly tumult, never such a leaderless
mob. But, as always has happened, and always will, the stronger
men by dint of louder voices and more vigorous shoulders got their
plans agreed to at last, and the others perforce had to give way.
A band of them set off running, and presently returned at
snails' pace, dragging with them (with many squeals from ungreased
wheels) one of those huge war engines with which besiegers are wont
to throw great stones and other missiles into the cities they sit
down against. They ran it up just beyond bowshot of the walls, and
clamped it firmly down with stakes and ropes to the earth. Then
setting their lean arms to the windlasses, they drew back the great
tree which formed the spring till its tethering place reached the
ground, and in the cradle at its head they placed one of the
prisoners, bound helplessly, so that he could not throw himself
over the side.
Then the rude, savage, skin-clad mob stood back, and one who
had appointed himself engineer knocked back the catch that held the
great spring in place.
With a whir and a twang the elastic wood flung upwards, and
the bound man was shot away from its tip with the speed of a
lightning flash. He sang through the air, spinning over and over
with inconceivable rapidity, and the great crowd of rebels held
their breath in silence as they watched. He passed high above the
city wall, a tiny mannikin in the distance now, and then the
trajectory of his flight began to lower. The spike of a new-built
pyramid lay in the path of his terrific flight, and he struck it
with a thud whose sound floated out to us afterwards, and then he
toppled down out of our sight, leaving a red stain on the whiteness
of the stone as he fell.
With a roar the crowd acknowledged the success of their
device, and bellowed out insults to Phorenice, and insults to the
Gods: a poor frantic crowd they showed themselves. And then with
ravening shouts, they fell upon the other captive warder, binding
him also into a compact helpless missile, and meanwhile getting the
engine in gear again for another shot.
But for my part I saw nothing of this disgusting scene. I
heard the bolt grate stealthily against the door of the little
temple in which I was imprisoned, and was minded to give these
brutish rebels somewhat of a surprise. I had rid myself of my
bonds handily enough; I had rubbed my limbs to that perfect
suppleness which is always desirable before a fight; and I had
planned to rush out so soon as the door was swung, and kill those
that came first with fist blows on the brow and chin.
They had not suspected my name, it was clear, for my stature
and garb were nothing out of the ordinary; but if my bodily
strength and fighting power had been sufficient to raise me to a
vice-royalty like that of Yucatan, and let me endure alive in that
government throughout twenty hard-battling years, why, it was
likely that this rabble of savages would see something that was new
and admirable in the practice of arms before the crude weight of
their numbers could drag me down. Nay, I did not even despair of
winning free altogether. I must find me a weapon from those that
came up to battle, with which I could write worthy signatures, and
I must attempt no standing fights. Gods! but what a glow the
prospect did send through me as I stood there waiting.
A vainer man, writing history, might have said that always,
before everything else, he held in mind the greater interests
before the less. But for me--I prefer to be honest, and own myself
human. In my glee at that forthcoming fight--which promised to be
the greatest and most furious I had known in all a long life of
battling--I will confess that Atlantis and her differing policies
were clean forgot. I should go out an unknown man from the little
cell of a temple, I should do my work, and then, whether I took
freedom with me, or whether I came down at last myself on a pile of
slain, these people would guess without being told the name, that
here was Deucalion. Gods! what a fight we would have made!
But the door did not open wide to give me space for my first
rush. It creaked gratingly outwards on its pivots, and a slim hand
and a white arm slipped inside, beckoning me to quietude. Here was
some woman. The door creaked wider, and she came inside.
"Nais," I said.
"Silence, or they will hear you, and remember. At present
those who brought you here are killed, and unless by chance some
one blunders into this robbed shrine, you will not be found."
"Then, if that is so, let me go out and walk amongst these
people as one of themselves."
She shook her head.
"But, Nais, I am not known here. I am merely a man in very
plain and mud-stained robe. I should be in no ways remarkable."
A smile twitched her face. "My lord," she said, "wears no
beard; and his is the only clean chin in the camp."
I joined in her laugh. "A pest on my want of foppishness
then. But I am forgetting somewhat. It comes to my mind that we
still have unfinished that small discussion of ours concerning the
length of my poor life. Have you decided to cut it off from risk
of further mischief, or do you propose to give me further span?"
She turned to me with a look of sharp distress. "My lord,"
she said, "I would have you forget that silly talk of mine. This
last two hours I thought you were dead in real truth."
"And you were not relieved?"
"I felt that the only man was gone out of the world--I mean,
my lord, the only man who can save Atlantis."
"Your words give me a confidence. Then you would have me go
back and become husband to Phorenice?"
"If there is no other way."
"I warn you I shall do that, if she still so desires it, and
if it seems to me that that course will be best. This is no hour
for private likings or dislikings."
"I know it," she said, "I feel it. I have no heart now, save
only for Atlantis. I have schooled myself once more to that."
"And at present I am in this lone little box of a temple. A
minute ago, before you came, I had promised myself a pretty enough
fight to signalise my changing of abode."
"There must be nothing of that. I will not have these poor
people slaughtered unnecessarily. Nor do I wish to see my lord
exposed to a hopeless risk. This poor place, such as it is, has
been given to me as an abode, and, if my lord can remain decorously
till nightfall in a maiden's chamber, he may at least be sure of
quietude. I am a person," she added simply, "that in this camp has
some respect. When darkness comes, I will take my lord down to the
sea and a boat, and so he may come with ease to the harbour and the
It was long enough since I had found leisure for a parcel of
sleep, and so during the larger part of that day I am free to
confess that I slumbered soundly, Nais watching me. Night fell,
and still we remained within the privacy of the temple. It was our
plan that I should stay there till the camp slept, and so I should
have more chance of reaching the sea without disturbance.
The night came down wet, with a drizzle of rain, and through
the slits in the temple walls we could see the many fires in the
camp well cared for, the men and women in skins and rags toasting
before them, with steam rising as the heat fought with their
wetness. Folk seated in discomfort like this are proverbially
alert and cruel in the temper, and Nais frowned as she looked on
the inclemency of the weather.
"A fine night," she said, "and I would have sent my lord back
to the city without a soul here being the wiser; but in this chill,
people sleep sourly. We must wait till the hour drugs them
And so we waited, sitting there together on that pavement so
long unkissed by worshippers, and it was little enough we said
aloud. But there can be good companionship without sentences of
But as the hours drew on, the night began to grow less quiet.
From the distance some one began to blow on a horn or a shell,
sending forth a harsh raucous note incessantly. The sound came
nearer, as we could tell from its growing loudness, and the voices
of those by the fires made themselves heard, railing at the blower
for his disturbance. And presently it became stationary, and
standing up we could see through the slits in the walls the people
of the camp rousing up from their uneasy rest, and clustering
together round one who stood and talked to them from the pedestal
of a war engine.
What he was declaiming upon we could not hear, and our curiosity
on the matter was not keen. Given that all who did not sleep
went to weary themselves with this fellow, as Nais whispered,
it would be simple for me to make an exit in the opposite
But here we were reckoning without the inevitable busybody.
A dozen pairs of feet splashing through the wet came up to the side
of the little temple, and cried loudly that Nais should join the
audience. She had eloquence of tongue, it appeared, and they
feared lest this speaker who had taken his stand on the war engine
should make schisms amongst their ranks unless some skilled person
stood up also to refute his arguments.
Here, then, it seemed to me that I must be elbowed into my
skirmish by the most unexpected of chances, but Nais was firmly
minded that there should be no fight, if courage on her part could
turn it. "Come out with me," she whispered, "and keep distant from
the light of the fires."
"But how explain my being here?"
"There is no reason to explain anything," she said bitterly.
"They will take you for my lover. There is nothing remarkable in
that: it is the mode here. But oh, why did not the Gods make you
wear a beard, and curl it, even as other men? Then you could have
been gone and safe these two hours."
"A smooth chin pleases me better."
"So it does me," I heard her murmur as she leaned her weight
on the stone which hung in the doorway, and pushed it ajar; "your
chin." The ragged men outside--there were women with them
also--did not wait to watch me very closely. A coarse jest or two
flew (which I could have found good heart to have repaid with a
sword-thrust) and they stepped off into the darkness, just turning
from time to time to make sure we followed. On all sides others
were pressing in the same direction--black shadows against the
night; the rain spat noisily on the camp fires as we passed them;
and from behind us came up others. There were no sleepers in the
camp now; all were pressing on to hear this preacher who stood on
the pedestal of the war engine; and if we had tried to swerve from
the straight course, we should have been marked at once.
So we held on through the darkness, and presently came within
Still it was little enough of the preacher's words we could
make out at first. "Who are your chiefs?" came the question at the
end of a fervid harangue, and immediately all further rational talk
was drowned in uproar. "We have no chiefs," the people shouted,
"we are done with chiefs; we are all equal here. Take away your
silly magic. You may kill us with magic if you choose, but rule us
you shall not. Nor shall the other priests rule. Nor Phorenice.
Nor anybody. We are done with rulers."
The press had brought us closer and closer to the man who
stood on the war engine. We saw him to be old, with white hair
that tumbled on his shoulders, and a long white beard, untrimmed
and uncurled. Save for a wisp of rag about the loins, his body was
unclothed, and glistened in the wet.
But in his hand he held that which marked his caste. With it
he pointed his sentences, and at times he whirled it about bathing
his wet, naked body in a halo of light. It was a wand whose tip
burned with an unconsuming fire, which glowed and twinkled and
blazed like some star sent down by the Gods from their own place in
the high heaven. It was the Symbol of our Lord the Sun, a
credential no one could forge, and one on which no civilised man
would cast a doubt.
Indeed, the ragged frantic crew did not question for one moment
that he was a member of the Clan of Priests, the Clan which
from time out of numbering had given rulers for the land, and even
in their loudest clamours they freely acknowledged his powers.
"You may kill us with your magic, if you choose," they screamed at
him. But stubbornly they refused to come back to their old
allegiance. "We have suffered too many things these later years,"
they cried. "We are done with rulers now for always."
But for myself I saw the old man with a different emotion.
Here was Zaemon that was father to Nais, Zaemon that had seen me
yesterday seated on the divan at Phorenice's elbow, and who to-day
could denounce me as Deucalion if so he chose. These rebels had
expended a navy in their wish to kill me four days earlier, and if
they knew of my nearness, even though Nais were my advocate, her
cold reasoning would have had little chance of an audience now.
The High Gods who keep the tether of our lives hide Their secrets
well, but I did not think it impious to be sure that mine was very
near the cutting then.
The beautiful woman saw this too. She even went so far as to
twine her fingers in mine and press them as a farewell, and I
pressed hers in return, for I was sorry enough not to see her more.
Still I could not help letting my thoughts travel with a grim
gloating over the fine mound of dead I should build before these
ragged, unskilled rebels pulled me down. And it was inevitable
this should be so. For of all the emotions that can ferment in the
human heart, the joy of strife is keenest, and none but an old
fighter, face to face with what must necessarily be his final
battle, can tell how deep this lust is embroidered into the very
foundations of his being.
But for the time Zaemon did not see me, being too much wrapped
in his outcry, and so I was free to listen to the burning words
which he spread around him, and to determine their effect on the
The theme he preached was no new one. He told that ever since
the beginning of history, the Gods had set apart one Clan of the
people to rule over the rest and be their Priests, and until the
coming of Phorenice these had done their duties with exactitude and
justice. They had fought invaders, carried war against the beasts,
and studied earth-movements so that they were able to foretell
earthquakes and eruptions, and could spread warnings that the
people might be able to escape their devastations. They are no
self-seekers; their aim was always to further the interest of
Atlantis, and so do honour to the kingdom on which the High Gods
had set their special favour. Under the Priestly Clan, Atlantis
had reached the pinnacle of human prosperity and happiness.
"But," cried the old man, waving the Symbol till his wet body
glistened in a halo of light, "the people grew fat and careless
with their easy life. They began to have a conceit that their good
fortune was earned by their own puny brains and thews, and was no
gift from the Gods above; and presently the cult of these Gods
became neglected, and Their temples were barren of gifts and
worshippers. Followed a punishment. The Gods in Their inscrutable
way decreed that a wife of one of the Priests (that was a governor
of no inconsiderable province) should see a woman child by the
wayside, and take it for adoption. That child the Gods in their
infinite wisdom fashioned into a scourge for Atlantis, and you who
have felt the weight of Phorenice's hand, know with what
completeness the High Gods can fashion their instruments.
"Yet, even as they set up, so can they throw down, and those
that shall debase Phorenice are even now appointed. The old rule
is to be re-established; but not till you who have sinned are
sufficiently chastened to cry to it for relief." He waved the
mysterious glowing Symbol before him. "See," he cried in his high
old quavering voice, "you know the unspeakable Power of which that
is the sign, and for which I am the mouthpiece. It is for you to
make decision now. Are the Gods to throw down this woman who has
scorned Them and so cruelly trodden on you? Or are you to be still
further purged of your pride before you are ripe for deliverance?"
The old priest broke off with a gesture, and his ragged white
beard sank on to his chest. Promptly a young man, skin clad and
carrying his weapon, elbowed up through the press of listeners, and
jumped on to the platform beside him. "Hear me, brethren!" he
bellowed, in his strong young voice. "We are done with tyrants.
Death may come, and we all of us here have shown how little we fear
it. But own rulers again we will not, and that is our final say.
My lord," he said, turning to the old man with a brave face, "I
know it is in your power to kill me by magic if you choose, but I
have said my say, and can stand the cost if needs be."
"I can kill you, but I will not," said Zaemon. "You have said
your silliness. Now go you to the ground again."
"We have free speech here. I will not go till I choose."
"Aye, but you will," said the old man, and turned on him with
a sudden tightening of the brows. There was no blow passed; even
the Symbol, which glowed like a star against the night, was not so
much as lifted in warning; but the young man tried to retort, and,
finding himself smitten with a sudden dumbness, turned with a spasm
of fear, and jumped back whence he had come. The crowd of them
thrilled expectantly, and when no further portent was given, they
began to shout that a miracle should be shown them, and then
perchance they would be persuaded back to the old allegiance.
The old man stooped and glowered at them in fury. "You dogs,"
he cried, "you empty-witted dogs! Do you ask that I should degrade
the powers of the Higher Mysteries by dancing them out before you
as though they were a mummers' show? Do you tickle yourselves that
you are to be tempted back to your allegiance? It is for you to
woo the Gods who are so offended. Come in humility, and I take it
upon myself to declare that you will receive fitting pardon and
relief. Remain stubborn, and the scourge, Phorenice, may torment
you into annihilation before she in turn is made to answer for the
evil she has put upon the land. There is the choice for you to
pick at."
The turmoil of voices rose again into the wetness of the
night, and weapons were upraised menacingly. It was clear that the
party for independence had by far the greater weight, both in
numbers and lustiness; and those who might, from sheer weariness of
strife, have been willing for surrender, withheld their word
through terror of the consequence. It was a fine comment on the
freedom of speech, about which these unruly fools had made their
boast, and, with a sly malice, I could not help whispering a word
on this to Nais as she stood at my elbow. But Nais clutched at my
hand, and implored me for caution. "Oh, be silent, my lord," she
whispered back, "or they will tear you in pieces. They are on fire
for mischief now."
"Yet a few hours back you were for killing me yourself," I
could not help reminding her.
She turned on me with a hot look. "A woman can change her
mind, my lord. But it becomes you little to remind her of her
A man in the press beside me wrenched round with an effort,
and stared at me searchingly through the darkness. "Oh!" he said.
"A shaved chin. Who are you, friend, that you should cut a beard
instead of curling it? I can see no wound on your face."
I answered him civilly enough that, with "freedom" for a
watchword, the fashion of my chin was a matter of mere private
concern. But as that did not satisfy him, and as he seemed to be
one of those quarrelsome fellows that are the bane of every
community, I took him suddenly by the throat and the shoulder, and
bent his neck with the old, quick turn till I heard it crack,
and had unhanded him before any of his neighbours had seen what had
befallen. The fierce press of the crowd held him from slipping to
the ground, and so he stood on there where he was, with his head
nodded forward, as though he had fallen asleep through heaviness,
or had fainted through the crushing of his fellows. I had no
desire to begin that last fight of mine in a place like this, where
there was no room to swing a weapon, nor chance to clear a battle
But all this time the lean preacher from the mountains was
sending forth his angry anathemas, and still holding the strained
attention of the people. And next he set forth before them the
cult of the Gods in the ancient form as is prescribed, and they
(with old habit coming back to them) made response in the words and
in the places where the old ritual enjoins. It was weird enough
sight, that time-honoured service of adoration, forced upon these
wild people after so long a period of irreligion.
They warmed to the old words as the high shrill voice of the
priest cried them forth, and as they listened, and as they realised
how intimate was the care of the Gods for the travails and sorrows
of their daily lives, so much warmer grew their responses.
It thrilled one to hear their earnestness; it sorrowed one to
know that they would yet be obdurate and not return to their old
allegiance. For this is the way with these common people; they
will work up an enthusiasm one minute, and an hour later it will
have fled away and left them cold and empty.
But Zaemon made no further calls upon their loyalty. He
finished the prescribed form of sentences, and stepped down off the
platform of the war engine with the Symbol of our Lord the Sun
thrust out resolutely before him. To all ordinary seeming the
crowd had been packed so that no further compression was possible,
but before the advance of the Symbol the people crushed back,
leaving a wide lane for his passage.
And here came the turning point of my life. At first, like,
I take it, every one else in that crowd, I imagined that the old
man, having finished his mission, was making a way to return to the
place from which he had come. But he held steadily to one
direction, and as that was towards myself, it naturally came to my
mind that, having dealt with greater things, he would now settle
with the less; or, in plainer words, that having put his policy
before the swarming people, he would now smite down the man he had
seen but yesterday seated as Phorenice's minister. Well, I should
lose that final fight I had promised myself, and that mound of
slain for my funeral bed. It was clear that Zaemon was the
mouthpiece of the Priests' Clan, duly appointed; and I also was a
priest. If the word had been given on the Sacred Mountain to those
who sat before the Ark of the Mysteries that Atlantis would prosper
more with Deucalion sent to the Gods, I was ready to bow to the
sentence with submissiveness. That I had regret for this mode of
cutting off, I will not deny. No man who has practised the game of
arms could abandon the promise of such a gorgeous final battle
without a qualm of longing.
But I had been trained enough to show none of these emotions
on my face, and when the old man came up to me, I stood my ground
and gave him the salutation prescribed between our ranks, which he
returned to me with circumstance and accuracy. The crowd fell
back, being driven away by the ineffable force of the Symbol,
leaving us alone in the middle of a ring. Even Nais, though she
was a priest's daughter, was ignorant of the Mysteries, and could
not withstand its force. And so we two men stood there alone
together, with the glow of the Symbol bathing us, and lighting
up the sea of ravenous faces that watched.
The people were quick to put their natural explanation on the
scene. "A spy!" they began to roar out. "A spy! Zaemon salutes
him as a Priest!"
Zaemon faced round on them with a queer look on his grim old
face. "Aye," he said, "this is a Priest. If I give you his name,
you might have further interest. This is the Lord Deucalion."
The word was picked up and yelled amongst them with a thousand
emotions. But at least they were loyal to their policy; they had
decided that Deucalion was their enemy; they had already expended
a navy for his destruction; and now that he was ringed in by their
masses, they lusted to tear him into rags with their fingers. But
rave and rave though they might against me, the glare from the
Symbol drove them shuddering back as though it had been a
lava-stream; and Zaemon was not the man to hand me over to their
fury until he had delivered formal sentence as the emissary of our
Clan on the Sacred Mount. So the end was not to be yet.
The old man faced me and spoke in the sacred tongue, which the
common people do not know. "My brother," he said, "which have you
come to serve, Deucalion or Atlantis?"
"Words are a poor thing to answer a question like that. You
will know all of my record. According to the Law of the Priests,
each ship from Yucatan will have carried home its sworn report to
lay at the feet of their council, and before I went to that
vice-royalty, what I did was written plain here on the face of
"We know your doings in the past, brother, and they have found
approval. You have governed well, and you have lived austerely.
You set up Atlantis for a mistress, and served her well; but then,
you have had no Phorenice to tempt you into change and fickleness."
"You can send me where I shall see her no more, if you think
me frail."
"Yes, and lose your usefulness. No, brother, you are the last
hope which this poor land has remaining. All other human means
that have been tried against Phorenice have failed. You have
returned from overseas for the final duel. You are the strongest
man we have, and you are our final champion. If you fail, then
only those terrible Powers which are locked within the Ark of the
Mysteries remains to us, and though it is not lawful to speak even
in this hidden tongue of their scope, you at least have full
assurance of their potency."
I shrugged my shoulders. "It seems that you would save time
and pains if you threw me to these wolves of rebels, and let them
end me here and now."
The old man frowned on me angrily. "I am bidding you do your
duty. What reason have you for wishing to evade it?"
"I have in my memory the words you spoke in the pyramid, when
you came in amongst the banqueters. 'PHORENICE,' was your
A WIND.' It seems that you foresee my defeat."
The old man shuddered. "I cannot tell what she may force us
to do. I spoke then only what it was revealed to me must happen.
Perhaps when matters have reached that pass, she will repent and
submit. But in the meanwhile, before we use the more desperate
weapons of the Gods, it is fitting that we should expend all human
power remaining to us. And so you must go, my brother, and play
your part to the utmost."
"It is an order. So I obey."
"You shall be at Phorenice's side again by the next dawn. She
has sent for you from Yucatan as a husband, and as one who (so she
thinks, poor human conqueror) has the weight of arm necessary to
prolong her tyrannies. You are a Priest, brother, and you are a
man of convincing tongue. It will be your part to make her
stubborn mind see the invincible power that can be loosed against
her, to point out to her the utter hopelessness of prevailing
against it."
"If it is ordered, I will do these things. But there is
little enough chance of success. I have seen Phorenice, and can
gauge her will. There will be no turning her once she has made a
decision. Others have tried; you have tried yourself; all have
"Words that were wasted on a maiden may go home to a wife.
You have been brought here to be her husband. Well, take your
The order came to me with a pang. I had given little enough
heed to women through all of a busy life, though when I landed, the
taking of Phorenice to wife would not have been very repugnant to
me if policy had demanded it. But the matters of the last two days
had put things in a different shape. I had seen two other women
who had strangely attracted me, and one of these had stirred within
me a tumult such as I had never felt before amongst my economies.
To lead Phorenice in marriage would mean a severance from this
other woman eternally, and I ached as I thought of it. But though
these thoughts floated through my system and gave me harsh wrenches
of pain, I did not thrust my puny likings before the command of the
council of the Priests. I bowed before Zaemon, and put his hand to
my forehead. "It is an order," I said. "If our Lord the Sun gives
me life, I will obey."
"Then let us begone from this place," said Zaemon, and took me
by the arm and waved a way for us with the Symbol. No further word
did I have with Nais, fearing to embroil her with these rebels who
clustered round, but I caught one hot glance from her eyes, and
that had to suffice for farewell. The dense ranks of the crowd
opened, and we walked away between them scathless. Fiercely though
they lusted for my life, brimming with hate though they made their
cries, no man dared to rush in and raise a hand against me.
Neither did they follow. When we reached the outskirts of the
crowd, and the ranks thinned, they had a mind, many of them, to
surge along in our wake; but Zaemon whirled the Symbol back before
their faces with a blaze of lurid light, and they fell to their
knees, grovelling, and pressed on us no more.
The rain still fell, and in the light of the camp fires as we
passed them, the wet gleamed on the old man's wasted body. And far
before us through the darkness loomed the vast bulk of the Sacred
Mountain, with the ring of eternal fires encincturing its crest.
I sighed as I thought of the old peaceful days I had spent in its
temple and groves.
But there was to be no more of that studious leisure now.
There was work to be done, work for Atlantis which did not brook
delay. And so when we had progressed far out into the waste, and
there was none near to view (save only the most High Gods), we
found the place where the passage was, whose entrance is known only
to the Seven amongst the Priests; and there we parted, Zaemon to
his hermitage in the dangerous lands, and I by this secret way back
into the capital.
Now the passage, though its entrance had been cunningly hidden
by man's artifice, was one of those veins in which the fiery blood
of our mother, the Earth, had aforetime coursed. Long years had
passed since it carried lava streams, but the air in it was still
warm and sulphurous, and there was no inducement to linger in
transit. I lit me a lamp which I found in an appointed niche, and
walked briskly along my ways, coughing, and wishing heartily I had
some of those simples which ease a throat that has a tendency to
catarrh. But, alas! all that packet of drugs which were my sole
spoil from the vice-royalty of Yucatan were lost in the sea-fight
with Dason's navy, and since landing in Atlantis there had been
little enough time to think for the refinements of medicine.
The network of earth-veins branched prodigiously, and if any
but one of us Seven Priests had found a way into its recesses by
chance, he would have perished hopelessly in the windings, or have
fallen into one of those pits which lead to the boil below. But I
carried the chart of the true course clearly in my head,
remembering it from that old initiation of twenty years back, when,
as an appointed viceroy, I was raised to the highest degree but one
known to our Clan, and was given its secrets and working
The way was long, the floor was monstrous uneven, and the air,
as I have said, bad; and I knew that day would be far advanced
before the signs told me that I had passed beneath the walls, and
was well within the precincts of the city. And here the vow of the
Seven hampered my progress; for it is ordained that under no
circumstances, whatever the stress, shall egress be made from this
passage before mortal eye. One branch after another did I try, but
always found loiterers near the exits. I had hoped to make my
emergence by that path which came inside the royal pyramid. But
there was no chance of coming up unobserved here; the place was
humming like a hive. And so, too, with each of the five next
outlets that I visited. The city was agog with some strange
But I came at last to a temple of one of the lesser Gods, and
stood behind the image for a while making observation. The place
was empty; nay, from the dust which robed all the floors and the
seats of the worshippers, it had been empty long enough; so I moved
all that was needful, stepped out, and closed all entry behind me.
A broom lay unnoticed on one of the pews, and with this I soon
disguised all route of footmark, and took my way to the temple
door. It was shut, and priest though I was, the secret of its
opening was beyond me.
Here was a pretty pass. No one but the attendant priests of
the temple could move the mechanism which closed and opened the
massive stone which filled the doorway; and if all had gone out to
attend this spectacle, whatever it might be, that was stirring the
city, why there I should be no nearer enlargement than before.
There was no sound of life within the temple precincts; there
were evidences of decay and disuse spread broadcast on every hand;
but according to the ancient law there should be eternally one at
least on watch in the priests' dwellings, so down the passages
which led to them I made my way. It would have surprised me little
to have found even these deserted. That the old order was changed
I knew, but I was only then beginning to realise the ruthlessness
with which it had been swept away, and how much it had given place
to the new.
However, there can be some faithful men remaining even in an
age of general apostasy, and on making my way to the door of the
dwelling (which lay in the roof of the temple) I gave the call, and
presently it was opened to me. The man who stood before me,
peering dully through the gloom, had at least remained constant to
his vows, and I made the salutation before him with a feeling of
His name was Ro, and I remembered him well. We had passed
through the sacred college together, and always he had been known
as the dullard. He had capacity for learning little of the cult of
the Gods, less of the arts of ruling, less still of the handling of
arms; and he had been appointed to some lowly office in this
obscure temple, and had risen to being its second priest and one of
its two custodians merely through the desertion of all his
colleagues. But it was not pleasant to think that a fool should
remain true where cleverer men abandoned the old beliefs.
Ro did before me the greater obeisance. He wore his beard
curled in the prevailing fashion, but it was badly done. His
clothing was ill-fitting and unbrushed. He always had been a
slovenly fellow. "The temple door is shut," he said, "and I only
have the secret of its opening. My lord comes here, therefore, by
the secret way, and as one of the Seven. I am my lord's servant."
"Then I ask this small service of you. Tell me, what stirs
the city?"
"That impious Phorenice has declared herself Goddess, and
declares that she will light the sacrifice with her own divine
fire. She will do it, too. She does everything. But I wish the
flames may burn her when she calls them down. This new Empress is
the bane of our Clan, Deucalion, these latter days. The people
neglect us; they bring no offerings; and now, since these rebels
have been hammering at the walls, I might have gone hungry if I had
not some small store of my own. Oh, I tell you, the cult of the
true Gods is well-nigh oozed quite out of the land."
"My brother, it comes to my mind that the Priests of our Clan
have been limp in their service to let these things come to pass."
"I suppose we have done our best. At least, we did as we were
taught. But if the people will not come to hear your exhortations,
and neglect to adore the God, what hold have you over their
religion? But I tell you, Deucalion, that the High Gods try our
own faith hard. Come into the dwelling here. Look there on my
I saw the shape of a man, untidily swathed in reddened
"This is all that is left of the poor priest that was my
immediate superior in this cure. It was his turn yesterday to
celebrate the weekly sacrifice to our Lord the Sun with the circle
of His great stones. Faugh! Deucalion, you should have seen how
he was mangled when they brought him back to me here."
"Did the people rise on him? Has it come to that?"
"The people stayed passive," said Ro bitterly, "what few of
them had interest to attend; but our Lord the Sun saw fit to try
His minister somewhat harshly. The wood was laid; the sacrifice
was disposed upon it according to the prescribed rites; the
procession had been formed round the altar, and the drums and the
trumpets were speaking forth, to let all men know that presently
the smoke of their prayer would be wafted up towards Those that sit
in the great places in the heavens. But then, above the noise of
the ceremonial, there came the rushing sound of wings, and from out
of the sky there flew one of those great featherless man-eating
birds, of a bigness such as seldom before has been seen."
"An arrow shot in the eye, or a long-shafted spear receives
them best."
"Oh, all men know what they were taught as children,
Deucalion; but these priests were unarmed, according to the rubric,
which ordains that they shall intrust themselves completely to the
guardianship of the High Gods during the hours of sacrifice. The
great bird swooped down, settling on the wood pyre, and attacked
the sacrifice with beak and talon. My poor superior here, still
strong in his faith, called loudly on our Lord the Sun to lend
power to his arm, and sprang up on the altar with naught but his
teeth and his bare arms for weapons. It may be that he expected a
miracle--he has not spoke since, poor soul, in explanation--but all
he met were blows from leathery wings, and rakings from talons
which went near to disembowelling him. The bird brushed him away
as easily as we could sweep aside a fly, and there he lay bleeding
on the pavement beside the altar, whilst the sacrifice was torn and
eaten in the presence of all the people. And then, when the bird
was glutted, it flew away again to the mountains."
"And the people gave no help?"
"They cried out that the thing was a portent, that our Lord
the Sun was a God no longer if He had not power or thought to guard
His own sacrifice; and some cried that there was no God remaining
now, and others would have it that there was a new God come to
weigh on the country, which had chosen to take the form of a common
man-eating bird. But a few began to shout that Phorenice stood for
all the Gods now in Atlantis, and that cry was taken up till the
stones of the great circle rang with it. Some may have made
proclamations because they were convinced; many because the cry was
new, and pleased them; but I am sure there were not a few who
joined in because it was dangerous to leave such an outburst
unwelcomed. The Empress can be hard enough to those who neglect to
give her adulation."
"The Empress is Empress," I said formally, "and her name
carries respect. It is not for us to question her doings."
"I am a priest," said Ro, "and I speak as I have been taught,
and defend the Faith as I have been commanded. Whether there is a
Faith any longer, I am beginning to doubt. But, anyway, it yields
a poor enough livelihood nowadays. There have been no offerings at
this temple this five months past, and if I had not a few jars of
corn put by, I might have starved for anything the pious of this
city cared. And I do not think that the affair of that sacrifice
is likely to put new enthusiasm into our cold votaries."
"When did it happen?"
"Twenty hours ago. To-day Phorenice conducts the sacrifice
herself. That has caused the stir you spoke about. The city is in
the throes of getting ready one of her pageants."
"Then I must ask you to open the temple doors and give me
passage. I must go and see this thing for myself."
"It is not for me to offer advice to one of the Seven," said
Ro doubtfully.
"It is not."
"But they say that the Empress is not overpleased at your
absence," he mumbled. "I should not like harm to come in your way,
Deucalion," he said aloud.
"The future is in the hands of the most High Gods, Ro, and I
at least believe that They will deal out our fates to each of us as
They in Their infinite wisdom see best, though you seem to have
lost your faith. And now I must be your debtor for a passage out
through the doors. Plagues! man, it is no use your holding out
your hand to me. I do not own a coin in all the world."
He mumbled something about "force of habit" as he led the way
down towards the door, and I responded tartly enough about the
unpleasantness of his begging customs. "If it were not for your
sort and your customs, the Priests' Clan would not be facing this
crisis to-day."
"One must live," he grumbled, as he pressed his levers, and
the massive stone in the doorway swung ajar.
"If you had been a more capable man, I might have seen the
necessity," said I, and passed into the open and left him. I could
never bring myself to like Ro.
A motley crowd filled the street which ran past the front of
this obscure temple, and all were hurrying one way. With what I
had been told, it did not take much art to guess that the great
stone circle of our Lord the Sun was their mark, and it grieved me
to think of how many venerable centuries that great fane had
upreared before the weather and the earth tremors, without such
profanation as it would witness to-day. And also the thought
occurred to me, "Was our Great Lord above drawing this woman on to
her destruction? Would He take some vast and final act of
vengeance when she consummated her final sacrilege?"
But the crowd pressed on, thrilled and excited, and thinking
little (as is a crowd's wont) on the deeper matters which lay
beneath the bare spectacle. From one quarter of the city walls the
din of an attack from the besiegers made itself clearly heard from
over the house, and the temples and the palaces intervening, but no
one heeded it. They had grown callous, these townsfolk, to the
battering of rams, and the flight of fire-darts, and the other
emotions of a bombardment. Their nerves, their hunger, their
desperation, were strung to such a pitch that little short of an
actual storm could stir them into new excitement over the siege.
All were weaponed. The naked carried arms in the hopes of
meeting some one whom they could overcome and rob; those that had
a possession walked ready to do a battle for its ownership. There
was no security, no trust; the lesson of civilisation had dropped
away from these common people as mud is washed from the feet by
rain, and in their new habits and their thoughts they had gone back
to the grade from which savages like those of Europe have never yet
emerged. It was a grim commentary on the success of Phorenice's
The crowd merged me into their ranks without question, and
with them I pressed forward down the winding streets, once so clean
and trim, now so foul and mud-strewn. Men and women had died of
hunger in these streets these latter years, and rotted where they
lay, and we trod their bones underfoot as we walked. Yet rising
out of this squalor and this misery were great pyramids and
palaces, the like of which for splendour and magnificence had never
been seen before. It was a jarring admixture.
In time we came to the open space in the centre of the city,
which even Phorenice had not dared to encroach upon with her
ambitious building schemes, and stood on the secular ground which
surrounds the most ancient, the most grand, and the breast of all
this world's temples.
Since the beginning of time, when man first emerged amongst
the beasts, our Lord the Sun has always been his chiefest God, and
legend says that He raised this circle of stones Himself to be a
place where votaries should offer Him worship. It is the fashion
amongst us moderns not to take these old tales in a too literal
sense, but for myself, this one satisfies me. By our wits we can
lift blocks weighing six hundred men, and set them as the capstones
of our pyramids. But to uprear the stones of that great circle
would be beyond all our art, and much more would it be impossible
to-day, to transport them from their distant quarries across the
rugged mountains.
There were nine-and-forty of the stones, alternating with
spaces, and set in an accurate circle, and across the tops of them
other stones were set, equally huge. The stones were undressed and
rugged; but the huge massiveness of them impressed the eye more
than all the temples and daintily tooled pyramids of our wondrous
city. And in the centre of the circle was that still greater stone
which formed the altar, and round which was carved, in the rude
chiselling of the ancients, the snake and the outstretched hand.
The crowd which bore me on came to a standstill before the
circle of stones. To trespass beyond this is death for the common
people; and for myself, although I had the right of entrance, I
chose to stay where I was for the present, unnoticed amongst the
mob, and wait upon events.
For long enough we stood there, our Lord the Sun burning high
and fiercely from the clear blue sky above our heads. The din of
the rebels' attack upon the walls came to us clearly, even above
the gabble of the multitude, but no one gave attention to it.
Excitement about what was to befall in the circle mastered every
other emotion.
I learned afterways that so pressing was the rebels' attack,
and so destructive the battering of their new war engines, that
Phorenice had gone off to the walls first to lend awhile her
brilliant skill for its repulse, and to put heart into the
defenders. But as it was, the day had burned out to its middle and
scorched us intolerably, before the noise of the drums and horns
gave advertisement that the pageant had formed in procession; and
of those who waited in the crowd, many had fainted with exhaustion
and the heat, and not a few had died. But life was cheap in the
city of Atlantis now, and no one heeded the fallen.
Nearer and nearer drew the drums and the braying of the other
music, and presently the head of a glittering procession began to
arrive and dispose itself in the space which had been set apart.
Many a thousand poor starving wretches sighed when they saw the
wanton splendour of it. But these lords and these courtiers of
this new Atlantis had no concern beyond their own bellies and their
own backs, except for their one alien regard--their simpering
affection for Phorenice.
I think, though, their loyalty for the Empress was real
enough, and it was not to be wondered at, since everything they had
came from her lavish hands. Indeed, the woman had a charm that
cannot be denied, for when she appeared, riding in the golden
castle (where I also had ridden) on the back of her monstrous
shaggy mammoth, the starved sullen faces of the crowd brightened as
though a meal and sudden prosperity had been bestowed upon them;
and without a word of command, without a trace of compulsion, they
burst into spontaneous shouts of welcome.
She acknowledged it with a smile of thanks. Her cheeks were
a little flushed, her movements quick, her manner high-strung, as
all well might be, seeing the horrible sacrilege she had in mind.
But she was undeniably lovely; yes, more adorably beautiful than
ever with her present thrill of excitement; and when the stair was
brought, and she walked down from the mammoth's back to the ground,
those near fell to their knees and gave her worship, out of sheer
fascination for her beauty and charm.
Ylga, the fan-girl, alone of all that vast multitude round the
Sun temple contained herself with her formal paces and duties. She
looked pained and troubled. It was plain to see, even from the
distance where I stood, that she carried a heavy heart under the
jewels of her robe. It was fitting, too, that this should be so.
Though she had been long enough divorced from his care and fostered
by the Empress, Ylga was a daughter of Zaemon, and he was the
chiefest of our Lord the Sun's ministers here on earth. She could
not forget her upbringing now at this supreme moment when the
highest of the old Gods was to be formally defied. And perhaps
also (having a kindness for Phorenice) she was not a little
dreadful of the consequences.
But the Empress had no eye for one sad look amongst all that
sea of glowing faces. Boldly and proudly she strode out into the
circle, as though she had been the duly appointed priest for the
sacrifice. And after her came a knot of men, dressed as priests,
and bearing the victim. Some of these were creatures of her own,
and it was easy to forgive mere ignorant laymen, won over by the
glamour of Phorenice's presence. But some, to their shame, were
men born in the Priests' Clan, and brought up in the groves and
colleges of the Sacred Mountain, and for their apostasy there could
be no palliation.
The wood had already been stacked on the altar-stone in the
due form required by the ancient symbolism, and the Empress stood
aside whilst those who followed did what was needful. As they
opened out, I saw that the victim was one of the small,
cloven-hoofed horses that roam the plains--a most acceptable
sacrifice. They bound its feet with metal gyves, and put it on the
pyre, where, for a while, it lay neighing. Then they stepped
aside, and left it living. Here was an innovation.
The false priests went back to the farther side of the circle,
and Phorenice stood alone before the altar. She lifted up her
voice, sweet, tuneful, and carrying, and though the din of the
siege still came from over the city, no ear there lost a word of
what was spoken.
She raised her glance aloft, and all other eyes followed it.
The heaven was clear as the deep sea, a gorgeous blue. But as the
words came from her, so a small mist was born in the sky, wheeling
and circling like a ball, although the day was windless, and
rapidly growing darker and more compact. So dense had it become,
that presently it threw a shadow on part of the sacred circle and
soothed it into twilight, though all without where the people stood
was still garish day. And in the ball of mist were little quick
stabs and splashes of noiseless flame.
She spoke, not in the priests' sacred tongue--though such was
her wicked cleverness, that she may very well have learned it--but
in the common speech of the people, so that all who heard might
understand; and she told of her wondrous birth (as she chose to
name it), and of the direct aid of the most High Gods, which had
enabled her to work so many marvels. And in the end she lifted
both of her fair white arms towards the blackness above, and with
her lovely face set with the strain of will, she uttered her final
"O my high Father, the Sun, I pray You now to acknowledge me
as Your very daughter. Give this people a sign that I am indeed a
child of the Gods and no frail mortal. Here is sacrifice unlit,
where mortal priests with their puny fires had weekly, since the
foundation of this land, sent savoury smoke towards the sky. I
pray You send down the heavenly fire to burn this beast here
offered, in token that though You still rule on high, You have
given me Atlantis to be my kingdom, and the people of the Earth to
be my worshippers."
She broke off and strained towards the sky. Her face was
contorted. Her limbs shook. "O mighty Father," she cried, "who
hast made me a God and an equal, hear me! Hear me!"
Out of the black cloud overhead there came a blinding flash of
light, which spat downwards on to the altar. The cloven-hoofed
horse gave one shrill neigh, and one convulsion, and fell back
dead. Flames crackled out from the wood pile, and the air became
rich with the smell of burning flesh. And lo! in another moment
the cloud above had melted into nothingness, and the flames burnt
pale, and the smoke went up in a thin blue spiral towards the
deeper blueness of the sky.
Phorenice, the Empress, stood there before the great stone,
and before the snake and the outstretched hand of life which were
inscribed upon it, flushed, exultant, and once more radiantly
lovely; and the knot of priests within the circle, and the great
mob of people without, fell to the ground adoring.
"Phorenice, Goddess!" they cried. "Phorenice, Goddess of all
But for myself I did not kneel. I would have no part in this
apostasy, so I stood there awaiting fate.
A murmur quickly sprang up round me, which grew into shouts.
"Kneel," one whispered, "kneel, sir, or you will be seen." And
another cried: "Kneel, you without beard, and do obeisance to the
only Goddess, or by the old Gods I will make myself her priest and
butcher you!" And so the shouts arose into a roar.
But presently the word "Deucalion" began to be bandied about,
and there came a moderation in the zeal of these enthusiasts.
Deucalion, the man who had left Atlantis twenty years before to
rule Yucatan, they might know little enough about, but Deucalion,
who rode not many days back beside the Empress in the golden castle
beneath the canopy of snakes, was a person they remembered; and
when they weighed up his possible ability for vengeance, the shouts
died away from them limply.
So when the silence had grown again, and Phorenice turned and
saw me standing alone amongst all the prostrate worshippers, I
stepped out from the crowd and passed between two of the great
stones, and went across the circle to where she stood beside the
altar. I did not prostrate myself. At the prescribed distance I
made the salutation which she herself had ordered when she made me
her chief minister, and then hailed her with formal decorum as
"Deucalion, man of ice," she retorted.
"I still adhere to the old Gods!"
"I was not referring to that," said she, and looked at me with
a sidelong smile.
But here Ylga came up to us with a face that was white, and a
hand that shook, and made supplication for my life. "If he will
not leave the old Gods yet," she pleaded, "surely you will pardon
him? He is a strong man, and does not become a convert easily.
You may change him later. But think, Phorenice, he is Deucalion;
and if you slay him here for this one thing, there is no other man
within all the marches of Atlantis who would so worthily serve--"
The Empress took the words from her. "You slut," she cried
out. "I have you near me to appoint my wardrobe, and carry my fan,
and do you dare to put a meddling finger on my policies? Back with
you, outside this circle, or I'll have you whipped. Ay, and I'll
do more. I'll serve you as Zaemon served my captain, Tarca. Shall
I point a finger at you, and smite your pretty skin with a sudden
The girl bowed her shoulders, and went away cowed, and
Phorenice turned to me. "My lord," she said, "I am like a young
bird in the nest that has suddenly found its wings. Wings have so
many uses that I am curious to try them all."
"May each new flight they take be for the good of Atlantis."
"Oh," she said, with an eye-flash, "I know what you have most
at heart. But we will go back to the pyramid, and talk this out at
more leisure. I pray you now, my lord, conduct me back to my
riding beast."
It appeared then that I was to be condoned for not offering
her worship, and so putting public question on her deification. It
appeared also that Ylga's interference was looked upon as untimely,
and, though I could not understand the exact reasons for either of
these things, I accepted them as they were, seeing that they
forwarded the scheme that Zaemon had bidden me carry out.
So when the Empress lent me her fingers--warm, delicate
fingers they were, though so skilful to grasp the weapons of war--I
took them gravely, and led her out of the great circle, which she
had polluted with her trickeries. I had expected to see our Lord
the Sun take vengeance on the profanation whilst it was still in
act; but none had come: and I knew that He would choose his own
good time for retribution, and appoint what instrument He thought
best, without my raising a puny arm to guard His mighty honour.
So I led this lovely sinful woman back to the huge red mammoth
which stood there tamely in waiting, and the smell of the sacrifice
came after us as we walked. She mounted the stair to the golden
castle on the shaggy beast's back, and bade me mount also and take
seat beside her. But the place of the fan-girl behind was empty,
and what we said as we rode back through the streets there was none
to overhear.
She was eager to know what had befallen me after the attack on
the gate, and I told her the tale, laying stress on the worthiness
of Nais, and uttering an opinion that with care the girl might be
won back to allegiance again. Only the commands that Zaemon laid
upon me when he and I spoke together in the sacred tongue, did I
withhold, as it is not lawful to repeat these matters save only in
the High Council of the Priests itself as they sit before the Ark
of the Mysteries.
"You seem to have an unusual kindliness for this rebel Nais,"
said Phorenice.
"She showed herself to me as more clever and thoughtful than
the common herd."
"Ay," she answered, with a sigh that I think was real enough
in its way, "an Empress loses much that meaner woman gets as her
common due."
"In what particular?"
"She misses the honest wooing of her equals."
"If you set up for a Goddess--" I said.
"Pah! I wish to be no Goddess to you, Deucalion. That was
for the common people; it gives me more power with them; it helps
my schemes. All you Seven higher priests know that trick of
calling down the fire, and it pleased me to filch it. Can you not
be generous, and admit that a woman may be as clever in finding out
these natural laws as your musty elder priests?"
"Remains that you are Empress."
"Nor Empress either. Just think that there is a woman seated
beside you on this cushion, Deucalion, and look upon her, and say
what words come first to your lips. Have done with ceremonies, and
have done with statecraft. Do you wish to wait on as you are till
all your manhood withers? It is well not to hurry unduly in these
matters: I am with you there. Yet, who but a fool watches a fruit
grow ripe, and then leaves it till it is past its prime?"
I looked on her glorious beauty, but as I live it left me
cold. But I remembered the command that had been laid upon me, and
forced a smile. "I may have been fastidious," I said, "but I do
not regret waiting this long."
"Nor I. But I have played my life as a maid, time enough. I
am a woman, ripe, and full-blooded, and the day has come when I
should be more than what I have been."
I let my hand clench on hers. "Take me to husband then, and
I will be a good man to you. But, as I am bidden speak to
Phorenice the woman now, and not to the Empress, I offer fair
warning that I will be no puppet."
She looked at me sidelong. "I have been master so long that
I think it will come as enjoyment to be mastered sometimes. No,
Deucalion, I promise that--you shall be no puppet. Indeed, it
would take a lusty lung to do the piping if you were to dance
against your will."
"Then, as man and wife we will live together in the royal
pyramid, and we will rule this country with all the wit that it has
pleased the High Gods to bestow on us. These miserable differences
shall be swept aside; the rebels shall go back to their homes, and
hunt, and fight the beasts in the provinces, and the Priests' Clan
shall be pacified. Phorenice, you and I will throw ourselves brain
and soul into the government, and we will make Atlantis rise as a
nation that shall once more surpass all the world for peace and
Petulantly she drew her hand away from mine. "oh, your
conditions, and your Atlantis! You carry a crudeness in these
colonial manners of yours, Deucalion, that palls on one after the
first blunt flavour has worn away. Am I to do all the wooing? Is
there no thrill of love under all your ice?"
"In truth, I do not know what love may be. I have had little
enough speech with women all these busy years."
"We were a pair, then, when you landed, though I have heard
sighs and protestations from every man that carries a beard in all
Atlantis. Some of them tickled my fancy for the day, but none of
them have moved me deeper. No, I also have not learned what this
love may be from my own personal feelings. But, sir, I think that
you will teach me soon, if you go on with your coldness."
"From what I have seen, love is for the poor, and the weak,
and for those of flighty emotions."
"Then I would that another woman were Empress, and that I were
some ill-dressed creature of the gutter that a strong man could
pick up by force, and carry away to his home for sheer passion.
Ah! How I could revel in it! How I could respond if he caught my
whim!" She laughed. "But I should lead him a sad life of it if my
liking were not so strong as his."
"We are as we are made, and we cannot change our inwards which
move us."
She looked at me with a sullen glance. "If I do not change
yours, my Deucalion, there will be more trouble brewed for this
poor Atlantis that you set such store upon. There will be ill
doings in this coming household of ours if my love grows for you,
and yours remains still unborn."
I believe she would have had me fondle her there in the golden
castle on the mammoth's shabby back, before the city streets packed
with curious people. She had little enough appetite for privacy at
any time. But for the life of me I could not do it. The Gods know
I was earnest enough about my task, and They know also how it
repelled me. But I was a true priest that day, and I had put away
all personal liking to carry out the commands which the Council had
laid upon me. If I had known how to set about it, I would have
fallen in with her mood. But where any of those shallow bedizened
triflers about the court would have been glibly in his element, I
stuck for lack of a dozen words.
There was no help for it but to leave all, save what I actually
felt, unsaid. Diplomacy I was trained in, and on most matters
I had a glib enough tongue. But to palter with women was a
lightness I had always neglected, and if I had invented would-be
pretty speeches out of my clumsy inexperience, Phorenice would have
seen through the fraud on the instant. She had been nurtured
during these years of her rule on a pap of these silly
protestations, and could weigh their value with an expert's
Nor was it a case where honest confession would have served my
purpose better. If I had put my position to her in plain words, it
would have made relations worse. And so perforce I had to hold my
tongue, and submit to be considered a clown.
"I had always heard," she said, "that you colonists in Yucatan
were far ahead of those in Egypt in all the arts and graces. But
you, sir, do small credit to your vice-royalty. Why, I have had
gentry from the Nile come here, and you might almost think they had
never left their native shores."
"They must have made great strides this last twenty years,
then. When last I was sent to Egypt to report, the blacks were
clearly masters of the land, and our people lived there only on
sufferance. Their pyramids were puny, and their cities nothing
more than forts."
"Oh," she said mockingly, "they are mere exiles still, but
they remember their manners. My poor face seemed to please them,
at least they all went into raptures over it. And for ten pleasant
words, one of them cut off his own right hand. We made the
bargain, my Egyptian gallant and I, and the hand lies dried on some
shelf in my apartment to-day as a pleasant memento."
But here, by a lucky chance for me, an incident occurred which
saved me from further baiting. The rebels outside the walls were
conducting their day's attack with vigour and some intelligence.
More than once during our procession the lighter missiles from
their war engines had sung up through the air, and split against a
building, and thrown splinters which wounded those who thronged the
streets. Still there had been nothing to ruffle the nerves of any
one at all used to the haps of warfare, or in any way to hinder our
courtship. But presently, it seems, they stopped hurling stones
from their war engines, and took to loading them with carcases of
wood lined with the throwing fire.
Now, against stone buildings these did little harm, save only
that they scorched horribly any poor wretch that was within splash
of them when they burst; but when they fell upon the rude wooden
booths and rush shelters of the poorer folk, they set them ablaze
instantly. There was no putting out these fires.
These things also would have given to either Phorenice or
myself little enough of concern, as they are the trivial and common
incidents of every siege; but the mammoth on which we rode had not
been so properly schooled. When the first blue whiff of smoke came
to us down the windings of the street, the huge red beast hoisted
its trunk, and began to sway its head uneasily. When the smoke
drifts grew more dense, and here and there a tongue of flame showed
pale beneath the sunshine, it stopped abruptly and began to
The guards who led it, tugged manfully at the chains which
hung from the jagged metal collar round its neck, so that the
spikes ran deep into its flesh, and reminded it keenly of its
bondage. But the beast's terror at the fire, which was native to
its constitution, mastered all its new-bought habits of obedience.
From time unknown men have hunted the mammoth in the savage ground,
and the mammoth has hunted men; and the men have always used fire
as a shield, and mammoths have learned to dread fire as the most
dangerous of all enemies.
Phorenice's brow began to darken as the great beast grew more
restive, and she shook her red curls viciously. "Some one shall
lose a head for this blundering," said she. "I ordered to have
this beast trained to stand indifferent to drums, shouting, arrows,
stones, and fire, and the trainers assured me that all was done,
and brought examples."
I slipped my girdle. "Here," I said, "quick. Let me lower
you to the ground."
She turned on me with a gleam. "Are you afraid for my neck,
then, Deucalion?"
"I have no mind to be bereaved before I have tasted my wedded
"Pish! There is little enough of danger. I will stay and ride
it out. I am not one of your nervous women, sir. But go you,
if you please."
"There is little enough chance of that now."
Blood flowed from the mammoth's neck where the spikes of the
collar tore it, and with each drop, so did the tameness seem to
ooze out from it also. With wild squeals and trumpetings it turned
and charged viciously down the way it had come, scattering like
straws the spearmen who tried to stop it, and mowing a great swath
through the crowd with its monstrous progress. Many must have been
trodden under foot, many killed by its murderous trunk, but only
their cries came to us. The golden castle, with its canopy of
royal snakes, was swayed and tossed, so that we two occupants had
much ado not to be shot off like stones from a catapult. But I
took a brace with my feet against the front, and one arm around a
pillar, and clapped the spare arm round Phorenice, so as to offer
myself to her as a cushion.
She lay there contentedly enough, with her lovely face just
beneath my chin, and the faint scent of her hair coming in to me
with every breath I took; and the mammoth charged madly on through
the narrow streets. We had outstripped the taint of smoke, and the
original cause of fear, but the beast seemed to have forgotten
everything in its mad panic. It held furiously on with enormous
strides, carrying its trunk aloft, and deafening us with its
screams and trumpetings. We left behind us quickly all those who
had trod in that glittering pageant, and we were carried helplessly
on through the wards of the city.
The beast was utterly beyond all control. So great was its
pace that there was no alternative but to try and cling on to the
castle. Up there we were beyond its reach. To have leapt off,
even if we had avoided having brains dashed out or limbs smashed by
the fall, would have been to put ourselves at once at a frightful
disadvantage. The mammoth would have scented us immediately, and
turned (as is the custom of these beasts), and we should have been
trampled into a pulp in a dozen seconds.
The thought came to me that here was the High God's answer to
Phorenice's sacrilege. The mammoth was appointed to carry out
Their vengeance by dashing her to pieces, and I, their priest, was
to be human witness that justice had been done. But no direct
revelation had been given me on this matter, and so I took no
initiative, but hung on to the swaying castle, and held the Empress
against bruises in my arms.
There was no guiding the brute: in its insanity of madness it
doubled many times upon its course, the windings of the streets
confusing it. But by degrees we left the large palaces and
pyramids behind, and got amongst the quarters of artisans, where
weavers and smiths gaped at us from their doors as we thundered
past. And then we came upon the merchants' quarters where men live
over their storehouses that do traffic with the people over seas,
and then down an open space there glittered before us a mirror of
"Now here," thought I, "this mad beast will come to sudden
stop, and as like as not will swerve round sharply and charge back
again towards the heart of the city." And I braced myself to
withstand the shock, and took fresh grip upon the woman who lay
against my breast. But with louder screams and wilder trumpetings
the mammoth held straight on, and presently came to the harbour's
edge, and sent the spray sparkling in sheets amongst the sunshine
as it went with its clumsy gait into the water.
But at this point the pace was very quickly slackened. The
great sewers, which science devised for the health of the city in
the old King's time, vomit their drainings into this part of the
harbour, and the solid matter which they carry is quickly deposited
as an impalpable sludge. Into this the huge beast began to sink
deeper and deeper before it could halt in its rush, and when with
frightened bellowings it had come to a stop, it was bogged
irretrievably. Madly it struggled, wildly it screamed and
trumpeted. The harbour-water and the slime were churned into one
stinking compost, and the golden castle in which we clung lurched
so wildly that we were torn from it and shot far away into the
Still there, of course, we were safe, and I was pleased enough
to be rid of the bumpings.
Phorenice laughed as she swam. "You handle yourself like a
sore man, Deucalion. I owe you something for lending me the
cushion of your body. By my face! There's more of the gallant
about you when it comes to the test than one would guess to hear
you talk. How did you like the ride, sir? I warrant it came to
you as a new experience."
"I'd liefer have walked."
"Pish, man! You'll never be a courtier. You should have
sworn that with me in your arms you could have wished the bumping
had gone on for ever. Ho, the boat there! Hold your arrows.
Deucalion, hail me those fools in that boat. Tell them that, if
they hurt so much as a hair of my mammoth, I'll kill them all by
torture. He'll exhaust himself directly, and when his flurry's
done we'll leave him where he is to consider his evil ways for a
day or so, and then haul him out with windlasses, and tame him
afresh. Pho! I could not feel myself to be Phorenice, if I had no
fine, red, shaggy mammoth to take me out for my rides."
The boat was a ten-slave galley which was churning up from the
farther side of the harbour as hard as well-plied whips could make
oars drive her, but at the sound of my shouts the soldiers on her
foredeck stopped their arrowshots, and the steersman swerved her
off on a new course to pick us up. Till then we had been swimming
leisurely across an angle of the harbour, so as to avoid landing
where the sewers outpoured; but we stopped now, treading the water,
and were helped over the side by most respectful hands.
The galley belonged to the captain of the port, a mincing
figure of a mariner, whose highest appetite in life was to lick the
feet of the great, and he began to fawn and prostrate himself at
once, and to wish that his eyes had been blinded before he saw the
Empress in such deadly peril.
"The peril may pass," said she. "It's nothing mortal that
will ever kill me. But I have spoiled my pretty clothes, and shed
a jewel or two, and that's annoying enough as you say, good man."
The silly fellow repeated a wish that he might be blinded
before the Empress was ever put to such discomfort again.
But it seemed she could be cloyed with flattery. "If you are
tired of your eyes," said she, "let me tell you that you have gone
the way to have them plucked out from their sockets. Kill my
mammoth, would you, because he has shown himself a trifle
frolicsome? You and your sort want more education, my man. I
shall have to teach you that port-captains and such small creatures
are very easy to come by, and very small value when got, but that
my mammoth is mine--mine, do you understand?--the property of
Goddess Phorenice, and as such is sacred."
The port-captain abased himself before her. "I am an ignorant
fellow," said he, "and heaven was robbed of its brightest ornament
when Phorenice came down to Atlantis. But if reparation is
permitted me, I have two prisoners in the cabin of the boat here
who shall be sacrificed to the mammoth forthwith. Doubtless it
would please him to make sport with them, and spill out the last
lees of his rage upon their bodies."
"Prisoners you've got, have you? How taken?"
"Under cover of last night they were trying to pass in between
the two forts which guard the harbour mouth. But their boat fouled
the chain, and by the light of the torches the sentries spied them.
They were caught with ropes, and put in a dungeon. There is an
order not to abuse prisoners before they have been brought before
a judgment?"
"It was my order. Did these prisoners offer to buy their
lives with news?"
"The man has not spoken. Indeed, I think he got his death-wound
in being taken. The woman fought like a cat also, so they said
in the fort, but she was caught without hurt. She says she has
got nothing that would be of use to tell. She says she has
tired of living like a savage outside the city, and moreover that,
inside, there is a man for whose nearness she craves most
"Tut!" said Phorenice. "Is this a romance we have swum to?
You see what affectionate creatures we women are, Deucalion."--The
galley was brought up against the royal quay and made fast to its
golden rings. I handed the Empress ashore, but she turned again
and faced the boat, her garments still yielding up a slender drip
of water.--"Produce your woman prisoner, master captain, and let us
see whether she is a runaway wife, or a lovesick girl mad after her
sweetheart. Then I will deliver judgment on her, and as like as
not will surprise you all with my clemency. I am in a mood for
tender romance to-day."
The port-captain went into the little hutch of a cabin with a
white face. It was plain that Phorenice's pleasantries scared him.
"The man appears to be dead, Your Majesty. I see that his
"Bring out the woman, you fool. I asked for her. Keep your
carrion where it is."
I saw the fellow stoop for his knife to cut a lashing, and
presently who should he bring out to the daylight but the girl I
had saved from the cave-tigers in the circus, and who had so
strangely drawn me to her during the hours that we had spent
afterwards in companionship. It was clear, too, that the Empress
recognised her also. Indeed, she made no secret about the matter,
addressing her by name, and mockingly making inquiries about the
menage of the rebels, and the success of the prisoner's amours.
"This good port-captain tells me that you made a most valiant
attempt to return, Nais, and for an excuse you told that it was
your love for some man in the city here which drew you. Come, now,
we are willing to overlook much of your faults, if you will give us
a reasonable chance. Point me out your man, and if he is a proper
fellow, I will see that he weds you honestly. Yes, and I will do
more for you, Nais, since this day brings me to a husband. Seeing
that all your estate is confiscate as a penalty for your late
rebellion, I will charge myself with your dowry, and give it back
to you. So come, name me the man."
The girl looked at her with a sullen brow. "I spoke a lie,"
she said; "there is no man."
I tried myself to give her advocacy. "The lady doubtless
spoke what came to her lips. When a woman is in the grip of a rude
soldiery, any excuse which can save her for the moment must serve.
For myself, I should think it like enough that she would confess to
having come back to her old allegiance, if she were asked."
"Sir," said the Empress, "keep your peace. Any interest you
may show in this matter will go far to offend me. You have spoken
of Nais in your narrative before, and although your tongue was
shrewd and you did not say much, I am a woman and I could read
between the lines. Now regard, my rebel, I have no wish to be
unduly hard upon you, though once you were my fan-girl, and so your
running away to these ill-kempt malcontents, who beat their heads
against my city walls, is all the more naughty. But you must meet
me halfway. You must give an excuse for leniency. Point me out
the man you would wed, and he shall be your husband to-morrow."
"There is no man."
"Then name me one at random. Why, my pretty Nais, not ten
months ago there were a score who would have leaped at the chance
of having you for a wife. Drop your coyness, girl, and name me one
of those. I warrant you that I will be your ambassadress and will
put the matter to him with such delicacy that he will not make you
blush by refusal."
The prisoner moistened her lips. "I am a maiden, and I have a
maiden's modesty. I will die as you choose, but I will not do
this indecency."
"Well, I am a maiden too, and though because I am Empress
also, questions of State have to stand before questions of my
private modesty, I can have a sympathy for yours--although in truth
it did not obtrude unduly when you were my fan-girl, Nais. No,
come to think of it, you liked a tender glance and a pretty phrase
as well as any when you were fan-girl. You have grown wild and
shy, amongst these savage rebels, but I will not punish you for
"Let me call your favourites to memory now. There was Tarca,
of course, but Tarca had a difference with that ill-dressed father
of yours, and wears a leprosy on half his face instead of that
beard he used to trim so finely. And then there is Tatho, but
Tatho is away overseas. Eron, too, you liked once, but be lost an
arm in fighting t'other day, and I would not marry you to less than
a whole man. Ah, by my face! I have it, the dainty exquisite,
Rota! He is the husband! How well I remember the way he used to
dress in a change of garb each day to catch your proud fancy, girl.
Well, you shall have Rota. He shall lead you to wife before this
hour to-morrow."
Again the prisoner moistened her lips. "I will not have Rota,
and spare me the others. I know why you mock me, Phorenice."
"Then there are three of us here who share one
knowledge."--She turned her eyes upon me. Gods! who ever saw the
like of Phorenice's eyes, and who ever saw them lit with such fire
as burned within them then?--"My lord, you are marrying me for
policy; I am marrying you for policy, and for another reason which
has grown stronger of late, and which you may guess at. Do you
wish still to carry out the match?"
I looked once at Nais, and then I looked steadily back to
Phorenice. The command given by the mouth of Zaemon from the High
Council of the Sacred Mountain had to outweigh all else, and I
answered that such was my desire.
"Then," said she, glowering at me with her eyes, "you shall
build me up the pretty body of Nais beneath a throne of granite as
a wedding gift. And you shall do it too with your own proper
hands, my Deucalion, whilst I watch your devotion."
And to Nais she turned with a cruel smile. "You lied to me,
my girl, and you spoke truth to the soldiers in the harbour forts.
There is a man here in the city you came after, and he is the one
man you may not have. Because you know me well, and my methods
very thoroughly, your love for him must be very deep, or you would
not have come. And so, being here, you shall be put beyond
mischief's reach. I am not one of those who see luxury in
fostering rivals.
"You came for attention at the hands of Deucalion. By my face!
you shall have it. I will watch myself whilst he builds you up
So this mighty Empress chose to be jealous of a mere woman
Now my mind has been trained to work with a soldierly
quickness in these moments of stress, and I decided on my proper
course on the instant the words had left her lips. I was
sacrificing myself for Atlantis by order of the High Council of the
Priests, and, if needful, Nais must be sacrificed also, although in
the same flash a scheme came to me for saving her.
So I bowed gravely before the Empress, and said I, "In this,
and in all other things where a mere human hand is potent, I will
carry out your wishes, Phorenice." And she on her part patted my
arm, and fresh waves of feeling welled up from the depths of her
wondrous eyes. Surely the Gods won for her half her schemes and
half her battles when they gave Phorenice her shape, and her voice,
and the matters which lay within the outlines of her face.
By this time the merchants, and the other dwellers adjacent to
this part of the harbour, where the royal quay stands, had come
down, offering changes of raiment, and houses to retire into.
Phorenice was all graciousness, and though it was little enough I
cared for mere wetness of my coat, still that part of the harbour
into which we had been thrown by the mammoth was not over savoury,
and I was glad enough to follow her example. For myself, I said no
further word to Nais, and refrained even from giving her a glance
of farewell. But a small sop like this was no meal for Phorenice,
and she gave the port-captain strict orders for the guarding of his
prisoner before she left him.
At the house into which I was ushered they gave me a bath, and
I eased my host of the plainest garment in his store, and he was
pleased enough at getting off so cheaply. But I had an hour to
spend outside on the pavement listening to the distant din of
bombardment before Phorenice came out to me again, and I could not
help feeling some grim amusement at the face of the merchant who
followed. The fellow was clearly ruined. He had a store of jewels
and gauds of the most costly kind, which were only in fraction his
own, seeing that he had bought them (as the custom is) in
partnership with other merchants. These had pleased Phorenice's
eye, and so she had taken all and disposed them on her person.
"Are they not pretty?" said she, showing them to me. "See how
they flash under the sun. I am quite glad now, Deucalion, that the
mammoth gave us that furious ride and that spill, since it has
brought me such a bonny present. You may tell the fellow here that
some day when he has earned some more, I will come and be his guest
again. Ah! They have brought us litters, I see. Well, send one
away and do you share mine with me, sir. We must play at being
lovers to-day, even if love is a matter which will come to us both
with more certainty to-morrow. No; do not order more bearers. My
own slaves will carry us handily enough. I am glad you are not one
of your gross, overfed men, Deucalion. I am small and slim myself,
and I do not want to be husbanded by a man who will overshadow me."
"Back to the royal pyramid?" I asked.
"No, nor to the walls. I neither wish to fight nor to sit as
Empress to-day, sir. As I have told you before, it is my whim to
be Phorenice, the maiden, for a few hours, and if some one I wot of
would woo me now, as other maidens are wooed, I should esteem it a
luxury. Bid the slaves carry us round the harbour's rim, and give
word to these starers that, if they follow, I will call down fire
upon them as I did upon the sacrifice."
Now, I had seen something of the unruliness of the streets
myself, and I had gathered a hint also from the officer at the gate
of the royal pyramid that night of Phorenice's welcoming banquet.
But as whatever there was in the matter must be common knowledge to
the Empress, I did not bring it to her memory then. So I dismissed
the guard which had come up, and drove away with a few sharp words
the throng of gaping sightseers who always, silly creatures, must
needs come to stare at their betters; and then I sat in the litter
in the place where I was invited, and the bearers put their heads
to the pole.
They swung away with us along the wide pavement which runs
between the houses of the merchants and the mariner folk and the
dimpling waters of the harbour, and I thought somewhat sadly of the
few ships that floated on that splendid basin now, and of the few
evidences of business that showed themselves on the quays. Time
was when the ships were berthed so close that many had to wait in
the estuary outside the walls, and memorials had been sent to the
King that the port should be doubled in size to hold the glut of
trade. And that, too, in the old days of oar and sail, when
machines drawing power from our Lord the Sun were but rarely used
to help a vessel speedily along her course.
The Egypt voyage and a return was a matter of a year then, as
against a brace of months now, and of three ships that set out, one
at least could be reckoned upon succumbing to the dangers of the
wide waters and the terrible beasts that haunt them. But in those
old days trade roared with lusty life, and was ever growing wider
and more heavy. Your merchant then was a portly man and gave
generously to the Gods. But now all the world seemed to be in
arms, and moreover trade was vulgar. Your merchant, if he was a
man of substance, forgot his merchandise, swore that chaffering was
more indelicate than blasphemy and curled his beard after the new
fashion, and became a courtier. Where his father had spent anxious
days with cargo tally and ship-master, the son wasted hours in
directing sewing men as they adorned a coat, and nights in
vapouring at a banquet.
Of the smaller merchants who had no substance laid by, taxes
and the constant bickerings of war had wellnigh ground them into
starvation. Besides, with the country in constant uproar, there
were few markets left for most merchandise, nor was there aught
made now which could be carried abroad. If your weaver is pressed
as a fire-tube man he does not make cloth, and if your farmer is
playing at rebellion, he does not buy slaves to till his fields.
Indeed, they told me that a month before my return, as fine a cargo
of slaves had been brought into harbour as ever came out of Europe,
and there was nothing for it but to set them ashore across the
estuary, and leave them free to starve or live in the wild ground
there as they chose. There was no man in all Atlantis who would
hold so much as one more slave as a gift.
But though I was grieved at this falling away, all schemes for
remedy would be for afterwards. It would only make ill worse to
speak of it as we rode together in the litter. I was growing to
know Phorenice's moods enough for that. Still, I think that she
too had studied mine, and did her best to interest me between her
bursts of trifling. We went out to where the westernmost harbour
wall joins the land, and there the panting bearers set us down.
She led me into a little house of stone which stood by itself,
built out on a promontory where there is a constant run of tide,
and when we had been given admittance, after much unbarring, she
showed me her new gold collectors.
In the dry knowledge taught in the colleges and groves of the
Sacred Mountain it had been a common fact to us that the metal gold
was present in a dissolved state in all sea water, but of plans for
dragging it forth into yellow hardness, none had ever been
discussed. But here this field-reared upstart of an Empress had
stumbled upon the trick as though it had been written in a book.
She patted my arm laughingly as I stared curiously round the
place. "I tell all others in Atlantis that only the Gods have this
secret," said she, "and that They gave it to me as one of
themselves. But I am no Goddess to you, am I, Deucalion? And, by
my face! I have no other explanation of how this plan was
invented. We'll suppose I must have dreamed it. Look! The
sea-water sluices in through that culvert, and passes over these
rough metal plates set in the floor, and then flows out again
yonder in its natural course. You see the yellow metal caught in
the ridges of the plates? That is gold. And my fellows here melt
it with fire into bars, and take it to my smith's in the city. The
tides vary constantly, as you priests know well, as the quiet moon
draws them, and it does not take much figuring to know how much of
the sea passes through these culverts in a month and how much gold
to a grain should be caught in the plates. My fellows here at
first thought to cheat me, but I towed two of them in the water
once behind a galley till the cannibal fish ate them, and since
then the others have given me credit for--for what do you think?"
"More divinity."
"I suppose it is that. But I am letting you see how it is
done. Just have the head to work out a little sum, and see what an
effect can be gained. You will be a God yet yourself, Deucalion,
with these silly Atlanteans, if only you will use your wit and
Was she laughing at me? Was she in earnest? I could not
tell. Sometimes she pointed out that her success and triumphs were
merely the reward of thought and brilliancy, and next moment she
gave me some impossible explanation and left me to deduce that she
must be more than mortal or the thing could never have been found.
In good truth, this little woman with her supple mind and her
supple body mystified me more and more the longer I stayed by her
side; and more and more despairing did I grow that Atlantis could
ever be restored by my agency to peace and the ancient Gods, even
after I had carried out the commands of the High Council, and taken
her to wife.
Only one plan seemed humanly possible, and that was to curb
her further mischievousness by death and then leave the wretched
country naturally to recover. It was just a dagger-stroke, and the
thing was done. Yet the very idea of this revolted me, and when
the desperate thought came to my mind (which it did ever and anon),
I hugged to myself the answer that if it were fitting to do this
thing, the High Gods in Their infinite wisdom would surely have put
definite commands upon me for its carrying out.
Yet, such was the fascination of Phorenice, that when
presently we left her gold collectors, and stumbled into such
peril, that a little withholding of my hand would have gained her
a passage to the nether Gods, I found myself fighting when she
called upon me, as seldom I have fought before. And though, of
course, some blame for this must be laid upon that lust of battle
which thrills even the coldest of us when blows begin to whistle
and war-cries start to ring, there is no doubt also that the
pleasure of protecting Phorenice, and the distaste for seeing her
pulled down by those rude, uncouth fishers put special nerve and
vehemence into my blows.
The cause of the matter was the unrest and the prevalency to
street violence which I have spoken of above, and the desperate
poverty of the common people, which led them to take any risk if it
showed them a chance of winning the wherewithal to purchase a meal.
We had once more mounted the litter, and once more the bearers,
with their heads beneath the pole, bore us on at their accustomed
swinging trot. Phorenice was telling me about her new supplies of
gold. She had made fresh sumptuary laws, it appeared.
"In the old days," said she, "when yellow gold was tediously
dredged up grain by grain from river gravels in the dangerous
lands, a quill full would cost a rich man's savings, and so none
but those whose high station fitted them to be so adorned could
wear golden ornaments. But when the sea-water gave me gold here by
the double handful a day, I found that the price of these river
hoards decreased, and one day--could you credit it?--a common
fellow, who was one of my smiths, came to me wearing a collar of
yellow gold on his own common neck. Well, I had that neck divided,
as payment for his presumption; and as I promised to repeat the
division promptly on all other offenders, that special species of
forwardness seems to be checked for the time. There are many
exasperations, Deucalion, in governing these common people."
She had other things to say upon the matter, but at this point
I saw two clumsy boats of fishers paddling to us from over the
ripples, and at the same time amongst the narrow lanes which led
between the houses on the other side of us, savage-faced men were
beginning to run after the litter in threatening clusters.
"With permission," I said, "I will step out of the conveyance
and scatter this rabble."
"Oh, the people always cluster round me. Poor ugly souls, they
seem to take a strange delight in coming to stare at my pretty
looks. But scatter them. I have said I did not wish to be
followed. I am taking holiday now, Deucalion, am I not, whilst
you learn to woo me?"
I stepped to the ground. The rough fishers in the boats were
beginning to shout to those who dodged amongst the houses to see to
it that we did not escape, and the numbers who hemmed us in on the
shore side were increasing every moment. The prospect was
unpleasant enough. We had come out beyond the merchants' quarters,
and were level with those small huts of mud and grass which the
fishing population deem sufficient for shelter, and which has
always been a spot where turbulence might be expected. Indeed,
even in those days of peace and good government in the old King's
time, this part of the city had rarely been without its weekly
The life of the fisherman is the most hard that any human
toilers have to endure. Violence from the wind and waves, and
pelting from firestones out of the sky are their daily portion; the
great beasts that dwell in the seas hunt them with savage
persistence, and it is a rare day when at least some one of the
fishers' guild fails to come home to answer the tally.
Moreover, the manner which prevails of catching fish is not
without its risks.
To each man there is a large sea-fowl taken as a nestling, and
trained to the work. A ring of bronze is round its neck to prevent
its swallowing the spoil for which it dives, and for each fish it
takes and flies back with to the boat, the head and tail and
inwards are given to it for a reward, the ring being removed whilst
it makes the meal.
The birds are faithful, once they have got a training, and are
seldom known to desert their owners; but, although the fishers
treat them more kindly than they do their wives, or children of
their own begetting, the life of the birds is precarious like that
of their masters. The larger beasts and fish of the sea prey on
them as they prey on the smaller fish, and so whatever care may be
lavished upon them, they are most liable to sudden cutting off.
And here is another thing that makes the life of the fisher
most precarious: if his fishing bird be slain, and the second which
he has in training also come by ill fortune, he is left suddenly
bereft of all utensils of livelihood, and (for aught his
guild-fellows care) he may go starve. For these fishers hold that
the Gods of the sea regulate their craft, and that if one is not
pleasing to Them They rob him of his birds; after which it would be
impious to have any truck or dealing with such a fellow; and
accordingly he is left to starve or rob as he chooses.
All of which circumstances tend to make the fishers rude,
desperate men, who have been forced into the trade because all
other callings have rejected them. They are fellows, moreover, who
will spend the gains of a month on a night's debauch, for fear that
the morrow will rob them of life and the chance of spending; and,
moreover, it is their one point of honour to be curbed in no desire
by an ordinary fear of consequences. As will appear.
I went quickly towards the largest knot of these people, who
were skulking behind the houses, leaving the litter halted in the
path behind me, and I bade them sharply enough to disperse. "For
an employment," I added, "put your houses in order, and clean the
fish offal from the lanes between them. To-morrow I will come
round here to inspect, and put this quarter into a better order.
But for to-day the Empress (whose name be adored) wishes for a
privacy, so cease your staring."
"Then give us money," said a shrill voice from amongst the
"I will send you a torch in an hour's time," I said grimly,
"and rig you a gallows, if you give me more annoyance. To your
kennels, you!"
I think they would have obeyed the voice of authority if they
had been left to themselves. There was a quick stir amongst them.
Those that stood in the sunlight instinctively slipped into the
shadow, and many dodged into the houses and cowered in dark corners
out of sight. But the men in the two hide-covered fisher-boats
that were paddling up, called them back with boisterous cries.
I signed to the litter-bearers to move on quickly along their
road. There was need of discipline here, and I was minded to deal
it out myself with a firm hand. I judged that I could prevent them
following the Empress, but if she still remained as a glittering
bait for them to rob, and I had to protect her also, it might be
that my work would not be done so effectively.
But it seems I was presumptuous in giving an order which dealt
with the person of Phorenice. She bade the bearers stand where
they were, and stepped out, and drew her weapons from beneath the
cushions. She came towards me strapping a sword on to her hip, and
carrying a well-dinted target of gold on her left forearm. "An
unfair trick," cries she, laughing. "If you will keep a fight to
yourself now, Deucalion, where will your greediness carry you when
I am your shrinking, wistful little wife? Are these fools truly
going to stand up against us?"
I was not coveting a fight, but it seemed as if there would be
no avoidance of it now. The robe and the glittering gauds of which
Phorenice had recently despoiled the merchant, drew the eyes of
these people with keen attraction. The fishers in the boats
paddled into the surf which edged the beach, and leaped overside
and left the frail basket-work structures to be spewed up sound or
smashed, as chance ordered. And from the houses, and from the
filthy lanes between them, poured out hordes of others, women mixed
with the men, gathering round us threateningly.
"Have a care," shouted one on the outskirts of the crowd.
"She called down fire for the sacrifice once to-day, and she can
burn up others here if she chooses."
"So much the more for those that are left," retorted another.
"She cannot burn all."
"Nay, I will not burn any," said Phorenice, "but you shall
look upon my sword-play till you are tired."
I heard her say that with some malicious amusement, knowing
(as one of the Seven) how she had called down the fires of the sky
to burn that cloven-hoofed horse offered in sacrifice, and knowing
too, full well, that she could bring down no fire here. But they
gave us little enough time for wordy courtesies. Their Empress
never went far unattended, and, for aught the wretches knew, an
escort might be close behind. So what pilfering they did, it
behoved them to get done quickly.
They closed in, jostling one another to be first, and the reek
of their filthy bodies made us cough. A grimy hand launched out to
seize some of the jewels which flashed on Phorenice's breast, and
I lopped it off at the elbow, so that it fell at her feet, and a
second later we were engaged.
"Your back to mine, comrade," cried she, with a laugh, and
then drew and laid about her with fine dexterity. Bah! but it was
mere slaughter, that first bout.
The crowd hustled inwards with such greediness to seize what
they could, that none had space to draw back elbow for a thrust,
and we two kept a circle round us by sheer whirling of steel. It
is necessary to do one's work cleanly in these bouts, as wounded
left on the ground unnoticed before one are as dangerous as so many
snakes. But as we circled round in our battling I noted that all
of Phorenice's quarry lay peaceful and still. By the Gods! but she
could play a fine sword, this dainty Empress. She touched life
with every thrust.
Yes, it was plain to see, now an example was given, that the
throne of Atlantis had been won, not by a lovely face and a subtle
tongue alone; and (as a fighter myself) I did not like Phorenice
the less for the knowledge. I could but see her out of the corner
of my eye, and that only now and again, for the fishers, despite
their ill-knowledge of fence, and the clumsiness of their weapons,
had heavy numbers, and most savage ferocity; and as they made so
confident of being able to pull us down, it required more than a
little hard battling to keep them from doing it. Ay, by the Gods!
it was at times a fight my heart warmed to, and if I had not
contrived to pluck a shield from one fool who came too
vain-gloriously near me with one, I could not swear they would not
have dragged me down by sheer ravening savageness.
And always above the burly uproar of the fight came very
pleasantly to my ears Phorenice's cry of "Deucalion!" which she
chose as her battle shout. I knew her, of course, to be a
past-mistress of the art of compliment, and it was no new thing for
me to hear the name roared out above a battle din, but it was given
there under circumstances which were peculiar, and for the life of
me I could not help being tickled by the flattery.
Condemn my weakness how you will, but I came very near then to
liking the Empress of Atlantis in the way she wished. And as for
that other woman who should have filled my mind, I will confess
that the stress of the moment, and the fury of the engagement, had
driven both her and her strait completely out beyond the marches of
my memory. Of such frail stuff are we made, even those of us who
esteem ourselves the strongest.
Now it is a temptation few men born to the sword can resist,
to throw themselves heart and soul into a fight for a fight's sake,
and it seems that women can be bitten with the same fierce
infection. The attack slackened and halted. We stood in the
middle of a ring of twisted dead, and the rest of the fishers and
their women who hemmed us in shrank back out of reach of our
It was the moment for a truce, and the moment when a few
strong words would have sent them back cowering to their huts, and
given us free passage to go where we chose. But no, this Phorenice
must needs sing a hymn to her sword and mine, gloating over our
feats and invulnerability; and then she must needs ask payment for
the bearers of her litter whom they had killed, and then speak
balefully of the burnings, and the skinnings, and the sawings
asunder with which this fishers' quarter would be treated in the
near future, till they learned the virtues of deportment and
genteel manners.
"It makes your backs creep, does it?" said Phorenice. "I do
not wonder. This severity must have its unpleasant side. But why
do you not put it beyond my power to give the order? Either you
must think yourselves Gods or me no Goddess, or you would not have
gone on so far. Come now, you nasty-smelling people, follow out
your theory, and if you make a good fight of it, I swear by my face
I will be lenient with those who do not fall."
But there was no pressing up to meet our swords. They still
ringed us in, savage and sullen, beyond the ring of their own dead,
and would neither run back to the houses, nor give us the game of
further fight. There was a certain stubborn bravery about them
that one could not but admire, and for myself I determined that
next time it became my duty to raise troops, I would catch a
handful of these men, and teach them handiness with the utensils of
war, and train them to loyalty and faithfulness. But presently
from behind their ranks a stone flew, and though it whizzed between
the Empress and myself, and struck down a fisher, it showed that
they had brought a new method into their attack, and it behoved us
to take thought and meet it.
I looked round me up and down the beach. There was no sign of
a rescue. "Phorenice," I said in the court tongue, which these
barbarous fishers would know little enough of, "I take it that a
whiff of the sea-breeze would come very pleasant after all this
warm play. As you can show such pretty sword work, will you cut me
a way down to the beach, and I will do my poor best to keep these
creatures from snapping at our heels?"
"Oh!" cried she. "Then I am to have a courtier for a husband
after all. Why have you kept back your flattering speeches till
now? Is that your trick to make me love you?"
"I will think out the reason for it another time."
"Ah, these stern, commanding husbands," said she, "how they do
press upon their little wives!" and with that leaped over the ring
of dead before her, and cut and stabbed a way through those that
stood between her and the waters which creamed and crashed upon the
beach. Gods! what a charge she made. It made me tingle with
admiration as I followed sideways behind her, guarding the rear.
And I am a man that has spent so many years in battling, that it
takes something far out of the common to move me to any enthusiasm
in this matter.
There were two boats creaking and washing about in the edge of
the surf, but in one, happily, the wicker-work which made its frame
was crushed by the weight of the waves into a shapeless bundle of
sticks, and would take half a day to replace. So that, let us but
get the other craft afloat, and we should be free from further
embroiling. But the fishers were quick to see the object of this
new manoeuvre. "Guard the boat," they shouted. "Smash her; slit
her skin with your knives! Tear her with your fingers! Swim her
out to sea! Oh, at least take the paddles!"
But, if these clumsy fishers could run, Phorenice was like a
legged snake for speed. She was down beside the boat before any
could reach it, laughing and shouting out that she could beat them
at every point. Myself, I was slower of foot; and, besides, there
was some that offered me a fight on the road, and I was not wishful
to baulk them; and moreover, the fewer we left clamouring behind,
the fewer there would be to speed our going with their stones.
Still I came to the beach in good order, and laid hands on the
flimsy boat and tipped her dry.
"Fighting is no trade for, me," I cried, "whilst you are here,
Phorenice. Guard me my back and walk out into the water."
I took the boat, thrusting it afloat, and wading with it till
two lines of the surf were past. The fishers swarmed round us,
active as fish in their native element, and strove mightily to get
hands on the boat and slit the hides which covered it with their
eager fingers. But I had a spare hand, and a short stabbing-knife
for such close-quarter work, and here, there, and everywhere was
Phorenice the Empress, with her thirsty dripping sword. By the
Gods! I laughed with sheer delight at seeing her art of fence.
But the swirl of a great fish into the shallows, and the
squeal of a fisher as he was dragged down and home away into the
deep, made me mindful of foes that no skill can conquer, and no
bravery avoid. Without taking time to give the Empress a word of
warning, I stooped, and flung an arm round her, and threw her up
out of the water into the boat, and then thrust on with all my
might, driving the flimsy craft out to sea, whilst my legs crept
under me for fear of the beasts which swam invisible beneath the
muddied waters.
To the fishers, inured to these horrid perils by daily
association, the seizing of one of their number meant little, and
they pressed on, careless of their dull lives, eager only to snatch
the jewels which still flaunted on Phorenice's breast. Of the
vengeance that might come after they recked nothing; let them but
get the wherewithal for one night's good debauch, and they would
forget that such a thing as the morning of a morrow could have
Two fellows I caught and killed that, diving down beneath,
tried to slit the skin of the boat out of sight under the water;
and Phorenice cared for all those that tried to put a hand on the
gunwales. Yes, and she did more than that. A huge long-necked
turtle that was stirred out of the mud by the turmoil, came up to
daylight, and swung its great horn-lipped mouth to this side and
that, seeking for a prey. The fishers near it dodged and dived.
I, thrusting at the stern of the boat, could only hope it would
pass me by and so offered an easy mark. It scurried towards me,
champing its noisy lips, and beating the water into spray with its
But Phorenice was quick with a remedy and a rescue. She
passed her sword through one of the fishers that pressed her, and
then thrust the body towards the turtle. The great neck swooped
towards it; the long slimy feelers which protruded from its head
quivered and snuffled; and then the horny green jaws crunched on
it, and drew it down out of sight.
The boat was in deep water now, and Phorenice called upon me
to come in over the side, she the while balancing nicely so that
the flimsy thing should not be overset. The fishers had given up
their pursuit, finding that they earned nothing but lopped-off arms
and split faces by coming within swing of this terrible sword of
their Empress, and so contented themselves with volleying jagged
stones in the hopes of stunning us or splitting the boat. However,
Phorenice crouched in the stern, holding the two shields--her own
golden target, and the rough hide buckler I had won--and so
protected both of us whilst I paddled, and though many stones
clattered against the shields, and hit the hide covering of the
boat, so that it resounded like a drum, none of them did damage,
and we drew quickly out of their range.
Our Lord the Sun was riding towards the end of His day, and
the smoke from a burning mountain fanned black and forbidding
before His face. Phorenice wrung the water from her clothes and
shivered. "Work hard with those paddles, Deucalion, and take me in
through the water-gate and let me be restored to my comforts again.
That merchant would rue if he saw how his pretty garments were
spoiled, and I rue, too, being a woman, and remembering that he at
least has no others I can take in place of these." She looked at
me sidelong, tossing back the short red hair from her eyes. "What
think you of my wisdom in coming where we have come without an
"The Empress can do no wrong," I quoted the old formula with
a smile.
"At least I have shown you that I can fight. I caught you
looking your approval of me quite pleasantly once or twice. You
were a difficult man to thaw, Deucalion, but you warm perceptibly
as you keep on being near me. La, sir, we shall be a pair of
rustic sweethearts yet, if this goes on. I am glad I thought of
the device of going near those smelly fishers."
So she had taken me out in the litter unattended for the plain
purpose of inviting a fight, and showing me her skill at arms, and
perhaps, too, of seeing in person how I also carried myself in a
moment of stress. Well, if we were to live on together as husband
and wife, it was good that each should know to a nicety the other's
powers; and also, I am too much of an old battler and too much
enamoured with the glorious handling of arms to quarrel very deeply
with any one who offers me a tough upstanding fight. Still for the
life of me, I could not help comparing Phorenice with another
woman. With a similar chance open before us, Nais had robbed me of
the struggle through a sheer pity for those squalid rebels who did
not even call her chieftain; whilst here was this Empress
frittering away two score of the hardiest of her subjects merely to
gratify a whim.
Yet, loyal to my vow as a priest, and to the commands set upon
me by the high council on the Sacred Mountain, I tried to put away
these wayward thoughts and comparisons. As I rowed over the
swingings of the waves towards the forts which guard the harbour's
mouth, I sent prayers to the High Gods to give my tongue dexterity,
and They through Their love for the country of Atlantis, and the
harassed people, whom it was my deep wish to serve, granted me that
power of speech which Phorenice loved. Her eyes glowed upon me as
I talked.
This beach of the fishers where we had had our passage at arms
is safe from ship attack from without, by reason of a chain of
jagged rocks which spring up from the deep, and run from the
harbour side to the end of the city wall. The fishers know the
passes, and can oftentimes get through to the open water beyond
without touching a stone; or if they do see a danger of hitting on
the reef, leap out and carry their light boats in their hands till
the water floats them again. But here I had neither the knowledge
nor the dexterity, and, thought I, now the High Gods will show
finally if They wish this woman who has defiled them to reign on in
Atlantis, and if also They wish me to serve as her husband.
I cried these things in my heart, and waited to receive the
omen. There was no half-answer. A great wave rose in the lagoon
behind us, a wave such as could have only been caused by an earth
tremor, and on its sleek back we were hurled forward and thrown
clear of the reefs with their seaweeds licking round us, without so
much as seeing a stone of the barrier. I bowed my head as I rowed
on towards the harbour forts. It was plain that not yet would the
High Gods take vengeance for the insults which this lovely woman
had offered Them.
The sentries in the two forts beat drums at one another in
their accustomed rotation, and in the growing dusk were going to
pay little enough attention to the fishingboat which lay against
the great chain clamouring to have it lowered. But luckily a pair
of officers were taking the air of the evening in a stone-dropping
turret of the roof of the nearer fort, and these recognised the
tone of our shouts. They silenced the drums, torches were lowered
to make sure of our faces, and then with a splash the great chain
was dropped into the water to give us passage.
A galley lay inside, nuzzling the harbour wall, and presently
the ladder of ropes was let down from the top of the nearest fort,
and a crew came down to man the oars. There were the customary
changes of raiment too, given as presents by the officers of the
fort, and these we put on in the cabin of the galley in place of
the sodden clothes we wore. There are fevers to be gained by
carrying wet clothes after sunset, and though from personal
experience I have learned that these may be warded off with drugs,
I noticed with some grim amusement that the Empress had
sufficiently little of the Goddess about her to fear very much the
ailments which are due to frail humanity.
The galley rowed swiftly across the calm waters of the
harbour, and made fast to the rings of gold on the royal quay, and
whilst we were waiting for litters to be brought, I watched a
lantern lit in the boat which stood guard over Phorenice's mammoth.
The huge red beast stood shoulder-deep in the harbour water, with
trunk up-turned. It was tamed now, and the light of the boat's
lantern fell on the little ripples sent out by its tremblings. But
I did not choose to intercede or ask mercy for it. If the mammoth
sank deeper in the harbour mud, and was swallowed, I could have
borne the loss with equanimity.
To tell the truth, that ride on the great beast's back had
impressed me unfavourably. In fact, it put into me a sense of
helplessness that was wellnigh intolerable. Perhaps circumstances
have made me unduly self-reliant: on that others must judge. But
I will own to having a preference for walking on my own proper
feet, as the Gods in fashioning our shapes most certainly intended.
On my own feet I am able to guard my own head and neck, and have
done on four continents, throughout a long and active life, and on
many a thousand occasions. But on the back of that detestable
mammoth, pah! I grew as nervous as a child or a dastard.
However, I had little enough leisure for personal megrims just
then. Whilst we waited, Phorenice asked the port-captain (who must
needs come up officiously to make his salutations) after the
disposal of Nais, and was told that she had been clapped into a
dungeon beneath the royal pyramid, and the officer of the guard
there had given his bond for her safe-keeping.
"It is to be hoped he understands his work," said the Empress.
"That pretty Nais knows the pyramid better than most, and it may be
he will be sent to the tormentors for putting her in a cell which
had a secret outlet. You would feel pleasure if the girl escaped,
"Assuredly," said I, knowing how useless it would be to make
a secret of the matter. "I have no enmity against Nais."
"But I have," said she viciously, "and I am still minded to
lock your faith to me by that wedding gift you know of."
"The thing shall be done," I said. "Before all, the Empress
of Atlantis."
"Poof! Deucalion, you are too stiff and formal. You ought to
be mightily honoured that I condescend to be jealous of your
favours. Your hand, sir, please, to help me into the litter. And
now come in beside me, and keep me warm against the night air. Ho!
you guards there with the torches! Keep farther back against the
street walls. The perfume you are burning stifles me."
Again there was a feast that night in the royal
banqueting-hall; again I sat beside Phorenice on the raised dais
which stands beneath the symbols of the snake and the out-stretched
hand. What had been taken for granted before about our forthcoming
relationship was this time proclaimed openly; the Empress herself
acknowledged me as her husband that was to be; and all that curled
and jewelled throng of courtiers hailed me as greater than
themselves, by reason of this woman's choice. There was method,
too, in their salutation. Some rumour must have got about of my
preference for the older and simpler habits, and there was no
drinking wine to my health after the new and (as I considered)
impertinent manner. Decorously, each lord and lady there came
forward, and each in turn spilt a goblet at my feet; and when I
called any up, whether man or woman, to receive tit-bits from my
platter, it was eaten simply and thankfully, and not kissed or
pocketed with any extravagant gesture.
The flaring jets of earth-breath showed me, too, so I thought,
a plainer habit of dress, and a more sober mien amongst this
thoughtless mob of banqueters. And, indeed, it must have been
plain to notice, for Phorenice, leaning over till the ruddy curls
on her shoulder brushed my face, chided me in a playful whisper as
having usurped her high authority already.
"Oh, sir," she pleaded mockingly, "do not make your rule over
us too ascetic. I have given no orders for this change, but
to-night there are no perfumes in the air; the food is so plain and
I have half a mind to burn the cook; and as for the clothes and
gauds of these diners, by my face! they might have come straight
from the old King's reign before I stepped in here to show how
tasteful could be colours on a robe, or how pretty the glint of a
jewel. It's done by no orders of mine, Deucalion. They have swung
round to this change by sheer courtier instinct. Why, look at the
beards of the men! There is not half the curl about many of them
to-day that they showed with such exquisiteness yesterday. By my
face! I believe they'd reap their chins to-morrow as smooth as
yours, if you go on setting the fashions at this prodigious rate
and I do not interfere."
"Why hinder them if they feel more cleanly shaven?"
"No, sir. There shall be only one clean chin where a beard
can grow in all Atlantis, and that shall be carried by the man who
is husband to the Empress. Why, my Deucalion, would you have no
sumptuary laws? Would you have these good folk here and the common
people outside imitate us in every cut of the hair and every fold
of a garment which it pleases us to discover? Come, sir, if you
and I chose to say that our sovereignty was marked only by our
superior strength of arm and wit, they would hate us at once for
our arrogance; whereas, if we keep apart to ourselves a few mere
personal decorations, these become just objects to admire and
pleasantly envy."
"You show me that there is more in the office of a ruler than
meets the eye."
"And yet they tell me, and indeed show me, that you have ruled
with some success."
"I employed the older method. It requires a Phorenice to
invent these nicer flights."
"Flatterer!" said she, and smote me playfully with the back of
her little fingers on my arm. "You are becoming as great a
courtier as any of them. You make me blush with your fine
pleasantries, Deucalion, and there is no fan-girl here to-night to
cool my cheek. I must choose me another fan-girl. But it shall
not be Ylga. Ylga seems to have more of a kindness for you than I
like, and if she is wise she will go live in her palace at the
other side of the city, and there occupy herself with the ordering
of her slaves, and the makings of embroideries. I shall not be
hard on Ylga unless she forces me, but I will have no woman in this
kingdom treat you with undue civility."
"And how am I to act," said I, falling in with her mood, "when
I see and hear all the men of Atlantis making their protestations
before you? By your own confession they all love you as ardently
as they seem to have loved you hopelessly."
"Ah, now," she said, "you must not ask me to do
impossibilities. I am powerful if you will. But I have no force
which will govern the hearts of these poor fellows on matters such
as that. But if you choose, you make proclamation that I am given
now body and inwards to you, and if they continue to offend your
pride in this matter, you may take your culprits, and give them
over to the tormentors. Indeed, Deucalion, I think it would be a
pretty attention to me if you did arrange some such ceremony. It
seems to me a present," she added with a frown, "that the jealousy
is too much on one side."
"You must not expect that a man who has been divorced from
love for all of a busy life can learn all its niceties in an
instant. Myself, I was feeling proud of my progress. With any
other schoolmistress than you, Phorenice, I should not be near so
forward. In fact (if one may judge by my past record), I should
not have begun to learn at all."
"I suppose you think I should be satisfied with that? Well,
I am not. I can be finely greedy over some matters."
The banquet this night did not extend to inordinate length.
Phorenice had gone through much since last she slept, and though
she had declared herself Goddess in the meantime, it seemed that
her body remained mortal as heretofore. The black rings of
weariness had grown under her wondrous eyes, and she lay back
amongst the cushions of the divan with her limbs slackened and
listless. When the dancers came and postured before us, she threw
them a jewel and bade them begone before they had given a half of
their performance, and the poet, a silly swelling fellow who came
to sing the deeds of the day, she would not hear at all.
"To-morrow," she said wearily, "but for now grant me peace.
My Lord Deucalion has given me much food for thought this day, and
presently I go to my chamber to muse over the future policies of
this State throughout the night. To-morrow come to me again, and
if your poetry is good and short, I will pay you surprisingly. But
see to it that you are not long-winded. If there are superfluous
words, I will pay you for those with the stick."
She rose to her feet then, and when the banqueters had made
their salutation to us, I led her away from the banqueting-hall and
down the passages with their secret doors which led to her private
chambers. She clung on my arm, and once when we halted whilst a
great stone block swung slowly ajar to let us pass, she drooped her
head against my shoulder. Her breath came warm against my cheek,
and the loveliness of her face so close at hand surpasses the
description of words. I think it was in her mind that I should
kiss the red lips which were held so near to mine, but willing
though I was to play the part appointed, I could not bring myself
to that. So when the stone block had swung, she drew away with a
sigh, and we went on without further speech.
"May the High Gods treat you tenderly," I said, when we came
to the door of her bed-chamber.
"I am my own God," said she, "in all things but one. By my
face! you are a tardy wooer, Deucalion. Where do you go now?"
"To my own chamber."
"Oh, go then, go."
"Is there anything more I could do?"
"Nothing that your wit or your will would prompt you to. Yes,
indeed, you are finely decorous, Deucalion, in your old-fashioned
way, but you are a mighty poor wooer. Don't you know, my man, that
a woman esteems some things the more highly if they are taken from
her by rude force?"
"It seems I know little enough about women."
"You never said a truer word. Bah! And I believe your
coldness brings you more benefit in a certain matter than any show
of passion could earn. There, get you gone, if the atmosphere of
a maiden's bed-chamber hurts your rustic modesty, and your Gods
keep you, Deucalion, if that's the phrase, and if you think They
can do it. Get you gone, man, and leave me solitary."
I had taken the plan of the pyramid out of the archives before
the banquet and learned it thoroughly, and so was able to thread my
way through its angular mazes without pause or blunder. I, too,
was heavily wearied with what I had gone through since my last
snatch of sleep, but I dare set apart no time for rest just then.
Nais must be sacrificed in part for the needs of Atlantis; but a
plan had come to me by which it seemed that she need not be
sacrificed wholly; and to carry this through there was need for
quick thought and action.
Help came to me also from a quarter I did not expect. As I
passed along the tortuous way between the ponderous stones of the
pyramid, which led to the apartments that had been given me by
Phorenice, a woman glided up out of the shadows of one of the side
passages, and when I lifted my hand lamp, there was Ylga.
She regarded me half-sullenly. "I have lost my place," she
said, "and it seems I need never have spoken. She intended to have
you all along, and it was not a thing like that which could put her
off. And you--you just think me officious, if, indeed, you have
ever given me another thought till now."
"I never forget a kindness."
"Oh, you will learn that trick soon now. And you are going to
marry her, you! The city is ringing with it. I thought at least
you were honest, but when there is a high place to be got by merely
taking a woman with it, you are like the rest. I thought, too,
that you would be one of those men who have a distrust for ruddy
hair. And, besides she is little."
"Ylga," I said, "you have taught me that these walls are full
of crannies and ears. I will listen to no word against Phorenice.
But I would have further converse with you soon. If you still have
a kindness for me, go to the chamber that is mine and wait for me
there. I will join you shortly."
She drooped her eyes. "What do you want of me, Deucalion?"
"I want to say something to you. You will learn who it
concerns later."
"But is it--is it fitting for a maiden to come to a man's room
at this hour?"
"I know little of your conventions here in this new Atlantis.
I am Deucalion, girl, and if you still have qualms, remembering
that, do not come."
She looked up at me with a sneer. "I was foolish," she said.
"My lord's coldness has grown into a proverb, and I should have
remembered it. Yes; I will come."
"Go now, then," said I, and waited till she had passed on ahead
and was out of sight and hearing. With Ylga to help me, my tasks
were somewhat lightened, and their sequence changed. In the
first instance, now, I had got to make my way with as little delay
and show as possible into a certain sanctuary which lay within the
temple of our Lady the Moon. And here my knowledge as one of the
Seven stood me in high favour.
All the temples of the city of Atlantis are in immediate and
secret connection with the royal pyramid, but the passages are
little used, seeing that they are known only to the Seven and to
the Three above them, supposing that there are three men living at
one time sufficiently learned in the highest of the highest
mysteries to be installed in that sublime degree of the Three.
And, even by these, the secret ways may only be used on occasions
of the greatest stress, so that a generation well may pass without
their being trodden by a human foot.
It was with some trouble, and after no little experiment that
I groped my way into this secret alley; but once there, the rest
was easy. I had never trodden it before certainly, but the plan of
it had been taught me at my initiation as one of the Seven, and the
course of the windings came back to me now with easy accuracy. I
walked quickly, not only because the air in those deep crannies is
always full of lurking evils, but also because the hours were
fleeting, and much must be done before our Lord the Sun again rose
to make another day.
I came to the spy-place which commands the temple, and found
the holy place empty, and, alas! dust-covered, and showing little
trace that worshippers ever frequented it these latter years. A
vast stone of the wall swung outwards and gave me entrance, and
presently (after the solemn prayer which is needful before
attempting these matters), I took the metal stair from the place
where it is kept, and climbed to the lap of the Goddess, and then,
pulling the stair after me, climbed again upwards till my length
lay against her calm mysterious face.
A shivering seized me as I thought of what was intended, for
even a warrior hardened to horrid sights and deeds may well have
qualms when he is called upon to juggle with life and death, and
years and history, with the welfare of his country in one hand, and
the future of a woman who is as life to him in the other. But
again I told myself that the hours flew, and laid hold of the jewel
which is studded into the forehead of the image with one hand, and
then stretching out, thrust at a corner of the eyebrow with the
other. With a faint creak the massive eyeball below, a stone that
I could barely have covered with my back, swung inwards. I stepped
off the stair, and climbed into the gap. Inside was the chamber
which is hollowed from the head of the Goddess.
It was the first time I had seen this most secret place, but
the aspect of it was familiar to me from my teaching, and I knew
where to find the thing which would fill my need. Yet, occupied
though I might be with the stress of what was to befall, I could
not help having a wonder and an admiration for the cleverness with
which it was hidden.
High as I was in the learning and mysteries of the Priestly
Clan, the structure of what I had come to fetch was hidden from me.
Beforetime I had known only of their power and effect; and now that
I came to handle them, I saw only some roughly rounded balls, like
nut kernels, grass green in colour, and in hardness like the wax of
bees. There were three of these balls in the hidden place, and I
took the one that was needful, concealing the others as I had found
them. It may have been a drug, it may have been something more;
what exactly it was I did not know; only of its power and effect I
was sure, as that was set forth plainly in the teaching I had
learned; and so I put it in a pouch of my garment, returning by the
way I had come, and replacing all things in due order behind me.
One look I took at the image of the Goddess before I left the
temple. The jet of earth-breath which burns eternally from the
central altar lit her from head to toe, and threw sparkles from the
great jewel in her forehead. Vast she was, and calm and peaceful
beyond all human imaginings, a perfect symbolism of that rest and
quietness which many sigh for so vainly on this rude earth, but
which they will never attain unless by their piety they earn a
place in the hereafter, where our Lady the Moon and the rest of the
High Ones reign in Their eternal glorious majesty.
It was with tired dragging limbs that I made my way back again
to the royal pyramid, and at last came to my own private chamber.
Ylga awaited me there, though at first I did not see her. The
suspicions of these modern days had taken a deep hold of the girl,
and she must needs crouch in hiding till she made sure it was I who
came to the chamber, and, moreover, that I came alone.
"Oh, frown at me if you choose," said she sullenly, "I am past
caring now for your good opinion. I had heard so much of
Deucalion, and I thought I read honesty in you when first you came
ashore; but now I know that you are no better than the rest.
Phorenice offers you a high place, and you marry her blithely to
get it. And why, indeed, should you not marry her? People say she
is pretty, and I know she can be warm. I have seen her warm and
languishing to scores of men. She is clever, too, with her eyes,
is our great Empress; I grant her that. And as for you, it tickles
you to be courted."
"I think you are a very silly woman," I said.
"If you flatter yourself it matters a rap to me whom you
marry, you are letting conceit run away with you."
"Listen," I said. "I did not ask you here to make foolish
speeches which seem largely beyond my comprehension. I asked you
to help me do a service to one of your own blood-kin."
She stared at me wonderingly. "I do not understand."
"It rests largely with you as to whether Nais dies to-morrow,
or whether she is thrown into a sleep from which she may waken on
some later and more happy day."
"Nais!" she gasped. "My twin, Nais? She is not here. She is
out in the camp with those nasty rebels who bite against the city
walls, if, indeed, still she lives."
"Nais, your sister is near us in the royal pyramid this
minute, and under guard, though where I do not know." And with
that I told her all that had passed since the girl was brought up
a prisoner in the galley of that foolish, fawning captain of the
port. "The Empress has decreed that Nais shall be buried alive
under a throne of granite which I am to build for her to-morrow,
and buried she will assuredly be. Yet I have a kindness for Nais,
which you may guess at if you choose, and I am minded to send her
into a sleep such as only we higher priests know of, from which at
some future day she may possibly awaken."
"So it is Nais; and not Phorenice, and not--not any other?"
"Yes; it is Nais. I marry the Empress because Zaemon, who is
mouthpiece to the High Council of the Priests, has ordered it, for
the good of Atlantis. But my inwards remain still cold towards
"Almost I hate poor Nais already."
"Your vengeance would be easy. Do not tell me where she is
gaoled, and I shall not dare to ask. Even to give Nais a further
span of life I cannot risk making inquiries for her cell, when
there is a chance that those who tell me might carry news to the
Empress, and so cause more trouble for this poor Atlantis."
"And why should I not carry the news, and so bring myself into
favour again? I tell you that being fan-girl to Phorenice and
second woman in the kingdom is a thing that not many would cast
lightly aside."
I looked her between eyes and smiled. "I have no fear there.
You will not betray me, Ylga. Neither will you sell Nais."
"I seem to remember very small love for this same Nais just
now," she said bitterly. "But you are right about that other
matter. I shall not buy myself back at your expense. Oh, I am a
fool, I know, and you can give me no thanks that I care about, but
there is no other way I can act."
"Then let us fritter no more time. Go you out now and find
where Nais is gaoled, and bring me news how I can say ten words to
her, and press a certain matter into her clasp."
She bowed her head and left the chamber, and for long enough
I was alone. I sat down on the couch, and rested wearily against
the wall. My bones ached, my eyes ached, and most of all, my
inwards ached. I had thought to myself that a man who makes his
life sufficiently busy will find no leisure for these pains which
assault frailer folk; but a philosophy like this, which carried one
well in Yucatan, showed poorly enough when one tried it here at
home. But that there was duty ahead, and the order of the High
Council to be carried into effect, the bleakness of the prospect
would have daunted me, and I would have prayed the Gods then to
spare me further life, and take me unto Themselves.
Ylga came back at last, and I got up and went quickly after
her as she led down a maze of passages and alleyways. "There has
been no care spared over her guarding," she whispered, as we halted
once to move a stone. "The officer of the guard is an old lover of
mine, and I raised his hopes to the burning point again by a dozen
words. But when I wanted to see his prisoner, there he was as firm
as brass. I told him she was my sister, but that did not move him.
I offered him--oh, Deucalion, it makes me blush to think of the
things I did offer to that man, but there was no stirring him. He
has watched the tormentors so many times, that there is no tempting
him into touch of their instruments."
"If you have failed, why bring me out here?"
"Oh, I am not inveigling you into a lover's walk with myself,
sir. You tickle yourself when you think your society is so
pleasant as that."
"Come, girl, tell me then what it is. If my temper is short,
credit it against my weariness."
"I have carried out my lord's commands in part. I know the
cell where Nais lives, and I have had speech with her, though not
through the door. And moreover, I have not seen her or touched her
"Your riddles are beyond me, Ylga, but if there is a chance,
let us get on and have this business done."
"We are at the place now," said she, with a hard little laugh,
"and if you kneel on the floor, you will find an airshaft, and Nais
will answer you from the lower end. For myself, I will leave you.
I have a delicacy in hearing what you want to say to my sister,
"I thank you," I said. "I will not forget what you have done
for me this night."
"You may keep your thanks," she said bitterly, and walked away
into the shadows.
I knelt on the floor of the gallery, and found the air passage
with my hand, and then, putting my lips to it, whispered for Nais.
The answer came on the instant, muffled and quiet. "I knew my
lord would come for a farewell."
"What the Empress said, has to be. You understand, my dear?
It is for Atlantis."
"Have I reproached my lord, by word or glance?"
"I myself am bidden to place you in the hollow between the
stones, and I must do it."
"Then my last sleep will be a sweet one. I could not ask to
be touched by pleasanter hands."
"But it mayhap that a day will come when she whom you know of
will be suffered by the High Gods to live on this land of Atlantis
no longer."
"If my lord will cherish my poor memory when he is free again,
I shall be grateful. He might, if he chose, write them on the
stones: Here was buried a maid who died gladly for the good of
Atlantis, even though she knew that the man she so dearly loved was
husband to her murderess."
"You must not die," I whispered. "My breast is near broken at
the very thought of it. And for respite, we must trust to the
ancient knowledge, which in its day has been sent out from the Ark
of the Mysteries."--I took the green waxy ball in my fingers, and
stretched them down the crooked air-shaft to the full of my
span.--"I have somewhat for you here. Reach up and try to catch it
from me."
I heard the faint rustle of her arm as it swept against the
masonry, and then the ball was taken over into her grasp. Gods!
what a thrill went through me when the fingers of Nais touched
mine! I could not see her, because of the crookedness of the
shaft, but that faint touch of her was exquisite.
"I have it," she whispered. "And what now, dear?"
"You will hide the thing in your garment, and when to-morrow
the upper stone closes down upon you and the light is gone, then
you will take it between your lips and let it dissolve as it will.
Sleep will take you, my darling, then, and the High Gods will watch
over you, even though centuries pass before you are roused."
"If Deucalion does not wake me, I shall pray never again to
open an eye. And now go, my lord and my dear. They watch me
here constantly, and I would not have you harmed by being
brought to notice."
"Yes, I must go, my sweetheart. It will not do to have our
scheme spoiled by a foolish loitering. May the most High Gods
attend your rest, and if the sacrifice we make finds favour, may
They grant us meeting here again on earth before we meet--as we
must--when our time is done, and They take us up to Their own
"Amen," she whispered back, and then: "Kiss your fingers,
dear, and thrust them down to me."
I did that, and for an instant felt her fondle them down the
crook of the airshaft out of sight, and then heard her withdraw her
little hand and kiss it fondly. Then again she kissed her own
fingers and stretched them up, and I took up the virtue of that
parting kiss on my finger-tips and pressed it sacredly to my lips.
"Living, sleeping, or dead, always my darling," she whispered.
And then, before I could answer, she whispered again: "Go, they are
coming for me." And so I went, knowing that I could do no more to
help her then, and knowing that all our schemes would be spilt if
any eye spied upon me as I lay there beside the air shaft. But my
chest was like to have split with the dull, helpless anguish that
was in it, as I made my way back to my chamber through the mazy
alleys of the pyramid.
"Do not look upon mine eyes, dear, when the time comes," had
been her last command, "or they will tell a tale which Phorenice,
being a woman, would read. Remember, we make these small denials,
not for our own likings, but for Atlantis, which is mother to us
There is no denying that the wishes of Phorenice were carried
into quick effect in the city of Atlantis. Her modern theory was
that the country and all therein existed only for the good of the
Empress, and when she had a desire, no cost could possibly be too
great in its carrying out.
She had given forth her edict concerning the burying alive of
Nais, and though the words were that I was to build the throne of
stone, it was an understood thing that the manual labour was to be
done for me by others. Heralds made the proclamation in every ward
of the city, and masons, labourers, stonecutters, sculptors,
engineers, and architects took hands from whatever was occupying
them for the moment, and hastened to the rendezvous. The
architects chose a chief who gave directions, and the lesser
architects and the engineers saw these carried into effect. Any
material within the walls of the city on which they set their seal,
was taken at once without payment or compensation; and as the
blocks of stone they chose were the most monstrous that could be
got, they were forced to demolish no few buildings to give them
I have before spoken of the modern rage for erecting new
palaces and pyramids, and even though at the moment an army of
rebels was battering with war engines at the city walls, the
building guilds were steadily at work, and their skill (with
Phorenice's marvellous invention to aid them) was constantly on the
increase. True, they could not move such massive blocks of stone
as those which the early Gods planted for the sacred circle of our
Lord the Sun, but they had got rams and trucks and cranes which
could handle amazing bulks.
The throne was to be erected in the open square before the
royal pyramid. Seven tiers of stone were there for a groundwork,
each a knee-height deep, and each cut in the front with three
steps. In the uppermost layer was a cavity made to hold the body
of Nais, and above this was poised the vast block which formed the
seat of the throne itself.
Throughout the night, to the light of torches, relay after
relay of the stonecutters, and the masons, and the sweating
labourers had toiled over bringing up the stone and dressing it
into fit shape, and laying it in due position; and the engineers
had built machines for lifting, and the architects had proved that
each stone lay in its just and perfect place. Whips cracked, and
men fainted with the labour, but so soon as one was incapable
another pressed forward into his place. No delay was brooked when
Phorenice had said her wish.
And finally, as the square began to fill with people come to
gape at the pageant of to-day, the chippings and the scaffolding
were cleared away, and with it the bodies of some half-score of
workmen who had died from accidents or their exertions during the
building, and there stood the throne, splendid in its carvings, and
all ready for completion. The lower part stood more than two
man-heights above the ground, and no stone of its courses weighed
less than twenty men; the upper part was double the weight of any
of these, and was carved so that the royal snake encircled the
chair, and the great hooded head overshadowed it. But at present
the upper part was not on its bed, being held up high by lifting
rams, for what purposes all men knew.
It was to face this scene, then, that I came out from the royal
pyramid at the summons of the chamberlains in the cool of next
morning. Each great man who had come there before me had bannerbearers
and trumpeters to proclaim his presence; the middle classes
were in all their bravery of apparel; and even poor squalid
creatures, with ribs of hunger showing through their dusty skins,
had turbans and wisps of colour wrapped about their heads to mark
the gaiety of the day.
The trumpets proclaimed my coming, and the people shouted
welcome, and with the gorgeous chamberlains walking backwards in
advance, I went across to a scarlet awning that had been prepared,
and took my seat upon the cushions beneath it.
And then came Phorenice, my bride that was to be that day,
fresh from sleep, and glorious in her splendid beauty. She was
borne out from the pyramid in an open litter of gold and ivory by
fantastic savages from Europe, her own refinement of feature being
thrown up into all the higher relief by contrast with their brutish
ugliness. One could hear the people draw a deep breath of delight
as their eyes first fell upon her; and it is easy to believe there
was not a man in that crowd which thronged the square who did not
envy me her choice, nor was there a soul present (unless Ylga was
there somewhere veiled) who could by any stretch imagine that I was
not overjoyed in winning so lovely a wife.
For myself, I summoned up all the iron of my training to guard
the expression of my face. We were here on ceremonial to-day; a
ghastly enough affair throughout all its acts, if you choose, but
still ceremonial; and I was minded to show Phorenice a grand manner
that would leave her nothing to cavil at. After all that had been
gone through and endured, I did not intend a great scheme to be
shattered by letting my agony and pain show themselves, in either
a shaking hand or a twitching cheek. When it came to the point, I
told myself, I would lay the living body of my love in the hollow
beneath the stone as calmly, and with as little outward emotion, as
though I had been a mere priest carrying out the burial of some
dead stranger. And she, on her part, would not, I knew, betray our
secret. With her, too, it was truly "Before all Atlantis."
I think it spared a pang to find that there was to be no
mockery or flippancy in what went forward. All was solemn and
impressive; and, though a certain grandeur and sombreness which bit
deep into my breast was lost to the vulgar crowd, I fancy that the
outward shape of the double sacrifice they witnessed that day would
not be forgotten by any of them, although the inner meaning of it
all was completely hidden from their minds. When it suited her
fancy, none could be more strict on the ritual of a ceremony than
this many-mooded Empress, and it appeared that on this occasion she
had given command that all things were to be carried out with the
rigid exactness and pomp of the older manner.
So she was borne up by her Europeans to the scarlet awning,
and I handed her to the ground. She seated herself on the
cushions, and beckoned me to her side, entwining her fingers with
mine as has always been the custom with rulers of Atlantis and
their consorts. And there before us as we sat, a body of soldiery
marched up, and opening out showed Nais in their midst. She had a
collar of metal round her neck, with chains depending from it
firmly held by a brace of guards, so that she should not run in
upon the spears of the escort, and thus get a quick and easy death,
which is often the custom of those condemned to the more lingering
But it was pleasant to see that she still wore her clothing.
Raiment, whether of fabric or skin, has its value, and custom has
always given the garments of the condemned to the soldiers guarding
them. So as Nais was not stripped, I could not but see that some
one had given moneys to the guards as a recompense, and in this I
thought I saw the hand of Ylga, and felt a gratitude towards her.
The soldiers brought her forward to the edge of the pavilion's
shade, and she was bidden prostrate herself before the Empress, and
this she wisely did and so avoided rough handling and force. Her
face was pale, but showed neither fear nor defiance, and her eyes
were calm and natural. She was remembering what was due to
Atlantis, and I was thrilled with love and pride as I watched her.
But outwardly I, too, was impassive as a man of stone, and
though I knew that Phorenice's eye was on my face, there was never
anything on it from first to last that I would not have had her
"Nais," said the Empress, "you have eaten from my platter when
you were fan-girl, and drunk from my cup, and what was yours I gave
you. You should have had more than gratitude, you should have had
knowledge also that the arm of the Empress was long and her hand
consummately heavy. But it seems that you have neither of these
things. And, moreover, you have tried to take a certain matter
that the Empress has set apart for herself. You were offered
pardon, on terms, and you rejected it. You were foolish. But it
is a day now when I am inclined to clemency. Presently, seated on
that carved throne of granite which he has built me yonder, I shall
take my Lord Deucalion to husband. Give me a plain word that you
are sorry, girl, and name a man whom you would choose, and I will
remember the brightness of the occasion, you shall be pardoned and
wed before we rise from these cushions."
"I will not wed," she said quietly.
"Think for the last time, Nais, of what is the other choice.
You will be taken, warm, and quick, and beautiful as you stand
there this minute, and laid in the hollow place that is made
beneath the throne-stone. Deucalion, that is to be my husband,
will lay you in that awful bed, as a symbol that so shall perish
all Phorenice's enemies, and then he will release the rams and
lower the upper stone into place, and the world shall see your face
no more. Look at the bright sky, Nais, fill your chest with the
sweet warm air, and then think of what this death will mean.
Believe me, girl, I do not want to make you an example unless you
force me."
"I will not wed," said the prisoner quietly.
The Empress loosed her fingers from my arm, and lay back
against the cushions. "If the girl presumes on our old
familiarity, or thinks that I jest, show her now, Deucalion, that
I do not."
"The Empress is far from jesting," I said. "I will do this
thing because it is the wish of the Empress that it should be done,
and because it is the command of the Empress that a symbol of it
shall remain for ever as an example for others. Lead your prisoner
to the place."
The soldiers wheeled, and the two guards with the chains of
the collar which was on the neck of Nais prepared to put out force
to drag her up the steps. But she walked with them willingly, and
with a colour unchanged, and I rose from my seat, and made
obeisance to the Empress and followed them.
Before all those ten thousand eyes, we two made no display of
emotion then, not only for Atlantis' sake, but also because both
Nais and I had a nicety and a pride in our natures. We were not as
Phorenice to flaunt endearments before others.
Yet, when I had bidden the guards unhasp the collar which held
the prisoner's neck, and clapped my arms around her, showing all
the roughness of one who has no mind that his captive shall escape
or even unduly struggle, a thrill gushed through me so potent that
I was like to have fainted, and it was only by supreme strain of
will that I held unbrokenly on with the ceremonial. I, who had
never embraced a woman with aught but the arm of roughness before,
now held pressed to me one whom I loved with an infinite
tenderness, and the revelation of how love can come out and link
with love was almost my undoing. Yet, outwardly, Nais made so
sign, but lay half-strangled in my arms, as any woman does that is
being borne away by a spoiler.
I trod with her to the uppermost step, the vast throne-stone
overhanging us, and then so that all of those who were gazing from
the sides of the pyramids and the roofs of the buildings round
might see, though we were beyond Phorenice's view, I used a force
that was brutal in dragging her across the level, and putting her
down into the hollow. And yet the girl resisted me with no one
effort whatever.
So that the victim might not struggle out and be crushed, and
so gain an easy death when the stone descended, there were brazen
clamps to fit into grooves of the stones above the hollow where she
lay, and these I fitted in place above her, and fastened one by
one, doing this butcher's work with one hand, and still fiercely
holding her down by the other. Gods! and the sweat of agony
dripped from me on to the thirsty stone as I worked. I could not
keep that in.
I clamped and locked the last two bars in place, and took my
brute's hand away from her throat.
The hateful fingermarks showed as bloodless furrows in the
whiteness of her skin. For the life of me, yes, even for the fate
of Atlantis, I could not help dropping my glance upon her face.
But she was stronger than I. She gave me no last look. She kept
her eyes steadfastly fixed on the cruel stone above, and so I left
her, knowing that it was best not to tarry longer.
I came out from under the stone, and gave the sign to the
engineers who stood by the rams. The fires were taken away from
their sides, and the metal in them began to contract, and slowly
the vast bulk of the throne-stone began to creep down towards its
But ah, so slowly! Gods! how my soul was torn as I watched
and waited.
Yet I kept my face impassive, overlooking as any officer might
a piece of work which others were carrying out under his direction,
and on which his credit rested; and I stood gravely in my place
till the rams had let the stone come down on its final resting
place, and had been carried away by the engineers; and then I went
round with the master architect with his plumbline and level,
whilst he tested this last piece of the building and declared it
It was a useless form, this last, seeing that by calculation
they knew exactly how the stone must rest; but the guilds have
their forms and customs, and on these occasions of high ceremonial,
they are punctiliously carried out, because these middle-class
people wish always to appear mysterious and impressive to the poor
vulgar folk who are their inferiors. But perhaps I am hard there
on them. A man who is needlessly taken round to plumb and duly
level the tomb where his love lies buried living, may perhaps be
excused by the assessors on high a little spirit of bitterness.
I had gone up the steps to do my hateful work a man full of
grief, though outwardly unmoved. As I came down again I had a
feeling of incompleteness; it seemed as though half my inwards had
been left behind with Nais in the hollow of the stone, and their
place was taken by a void which ached wearily; but still I carried
a passive face, and memory that before all these private matters
stood the command of the High Council, which sat before the Ark of
the Mysteries.
So I went and stood before Phorenice, and said the words which
the ancient forms prescribed concerning the carrying out of her
"Then, now," she said, "I will give myself to you as wife. We
are not as others, you and I, Deucalion. There is a law and a form
set down for the marrying of these other people, but that would be
useless for our purposes. We will have neither priest nor scribe
to join us and set down the union. I am the law here in Atlantis,
and you soon will be part of me. We will not be demeaned by
profaner hands. We will make the ceremony for ourselves, and for
witnesses, there are sufficient in waiting. Afterwards, the record
shall be cut deep in the granite throne you have built for me, and
the lettering filled in with gold, so that it shall endure and
remain bright for always."
"The Empress can do no wrong," I said formally, and took the
hand she offered me, and helped her to rise. We walked out from
the scarlet awning into the glare of the sunshine, she leaning on
me, flushing, and so radiantly lovely that the people began to hail
her with rapturous shouts of "A Goddess; our Goddess Phorenice."
But for me they had no welcoming word. I think the set grimness
of my face both scared and repelled them.
We went up the steps which led to the throne, the people still
shouting, and I sat her in the royal seat beneath the snake's
outstretched head, and she drew me down to sit beside her.
She raised her jewelled hand, and a silence fell on that great
throng, as though the breath had been suddenly cut short for all of
Then Phorenice made proclamation:
"Hear me, O my people, and hear me, O High Gods from whom I am
come. I take this man Deucalion, to be my husband, to share with
me the prosperity of Atlantis, and join me in guarding our great
possession. May all our enemies perish as she is now perishing
above whom we sit." And then she put her arms around my neck, and
kissed me hotly on the mouth.
In turn I also spoke: "Hear me, O most High Gods, whose
servant I am, and hear me also, O ye people. I take this Empress,
Phorenice, to wife, to help with her the prosperity of Atlantis,
and join with her in guarding the welfare of that great possession.
May all the enemies of this country perish as they have perished in
the past."
And then, I too, who had not been permitted by the fate to
touch the lips of my love, bestowed the first kiss I had ever given
woman to Phorenice, that was now being made my wife.
But we were not completely linked yet.
"A woman is one, and man is one," she proclaimed, following
for the first time the old form of words, "but in marriage they
merge, so that wife and husband are no more separate, but one
conjointly. In token of this we will now make the symbolic joining
together, so that all may see and remember." She took her dagger,
and pricking the brawn on my forearm till a head of blood appeared,
set her red lips to it, and took it into herself.
"Ah," she said, with her eyes sparkling, "now you are part of
me indeed, Deucalion, and I feel you have strengthened me already."
She pulled down the neck of her robe. "Let me make you my return."
I pricked the rounded whiteness of her shoulder. Gods! when
I remembered who was beneath us as we sat on that throne, I could
have driven the blade through to her heart! And then I, too, put
down my lips, and took the drop of her blood that was yielded to
My tongue was dry, my throat was parched, and my face
suffused, and I thought I should have choked.
But the Empress, who was ordinarily so acute, was misled then.
"It thrills you?" she cried. "It burns within you like living
fire? I have just felt it. By my face! Deucalion, if I had known
the pleasure it gives to be made a wife, I do not think I should
have waited this long for you. Ah, yes; but with another man I
should have had no thrill. I might have gone through the ceremony
with another, but it would have left me cold. Well, they say this
feeling comes to a woman but once in her time, and I would not
change it for the glory of all my conquests and the whirl of all my
power." She leaned in close to me so that the red curls of her hair
swept my cheek, and her breath came hot against my mouth. "Tasted
you ever any sweet so delicious as this knowledge that we are made
one now, Deucalion, past all possible dissolving?"
I could not lie to her any more just then. The Gods know how
honestly I had striven to play the part commanded me for Atlantis'
good, but there is a limit to human endurance, and mine was
reached. I was not all anger towards her. I had some pity for
this passion of hers, which had grown of itself certainly, but
which I had done nothing to check; and the indecent frankness with
which it was displayed was only part of the livery of potentates
who flaunt what meaner folk would coyly hide. But always before my
eyes was a picture of the girl on whom her jealousy had taken such
a bitter vengeance, and to invent spurious lover's talk then was a
thing my tongue refused to do.
"Words are poor things," I said, "and I am a man unused to
women, and have but a small stock of any phrases except the dryest.
Remember, Phorenice, a week agone, I did not know what love was,
and now that I have learned the lesson, somewhat of the suddenest,
the language remains still to come to me. My inwards speak; indeed
they are full of speech; but I cannot translate into bald cold
words what they say."
And here, surely the High Gods took pity on my tied tongue and
my misery, and made an opportunity for bringing the ceremony to an
end. A man ran into the square shouting, and showing a wound that
dripped, and presently all that vast crowd which stood on the
pavements, and the sides of the pyramids, and the roofs of the
temples, took up the cry, and began to feel for their weapons.
"The rebels are in!" "They have burrowed a path into the
city!" "They have killed the cave-tigers and taken a gate!" "They
are putting the whole place to the storm!" "They will presently
leave no poor soul of us here alive!"
There then was a termination of our marriage cooings. With
rebels merely biting at the walls, it was fine to put strong trust
in the defences, and easy to affect contempt for the besiegers'
powers, and to keep the business of pageants and state craft and
marryings turning on easy wheels. But with rebel soldiers already
inside the city (and hordes of others doubtless pressing on their
heels), the affairs took a different light. It was no moment for
further delay, and Phorenice was the first to admit it. The glow
that had been in her eyes changed to the glare of the fighter, as
the fellow who had run up squalled out his tidings.
I stood and stretched my chest. I seemed in need of air.
"Here," I said, "is work that I can understand more clearly. I
will go and sweep this rabble back to their burrows, Phorenice."
"But not alone, sir. I come too. It is my city still. Nay,
sir, we are too newly wed to be parted yet."
"Have your will," I said, and together we went down the steps
of the throne to the pavement below. Under my breath I said a
farewell to Nais.
Our armour-bearers met us with weapons, and we stepped into
litters, and the slaves took us off hot foot. The wounded man who
had first brought the news had fallen in a faint, and no more
tidings was to be got from him, but the growing din of the fight
gave us the general direction, and presently we began to meet knots
of people who dwelt near the place of irruption, running away in
wild panic, loaded down with their household goods.
It was useless to stop these, as fight they could not, and if
they had stayed they would merely have been slaughtered like flies,
and would in all likelihood have impeded our own soldiery. And so
we let them run screaming on their blind way, but forced the
litters through them with but very little regard for their coward
Now the advantage of the rebels, when it came to be looked
upon by a soldier's eye, was a thing of little enough importance.
They had driven a tunnel from behind a covering mound, beneath the
walls, and had opened it cleverly enough through the floor of a
middle-class house. They had come through into this, collecting
their numbers under its shelter, and doubtless hoping that the
marriage of the Empress (of which spies had given them information)
would sap the watchfulness of the city guards. But it seems they
were discovered and attacked before they were thoroughly ready to
emerge, and, as a fine body of troops were barracked near the spot,
their extermination would have been merely a matter of time, even
if we had not come up.
It did not take a trained eye long to decide on this, and
Phorenice, with a laugh, lay back on the cushions of the litter,
and returned her weapons to the armour-bearer who came panting up
to receive them. "We grow nervous with our married life, my
Deucalion," she said. "We are fearful lest this new-found
happiness be taken from us too suddenly."
But I was not to be robbed of my breathing-space in this wise.
"Let me crave a wedding gift of you," I said.
"It is yours before you name it."
"Then give me troops, and set me wide a city gate a mile away
from here."
"You can gather five hundred as you go from here to the gate,
taking two hundred of those that are here. If you want more, they
must be fetched from other barracks along the walls. But where is
your plan?"
"Why, my poor strategy teaches me this: these foolish rebels
have set all their hopes on this mine, and all their excitement on
its present success. If they are kept occupied here by a
Phorenice, who will give them some dainty fighting without checking
them unduly, they will press on to the attack and forget all else,
and never so much as dream of a sortie. And meanwhile, a Deucalion
with his troop will march out of the city well away from here,
without tuck of drum or blare of trumpet, and fall most
unpleasantly upon their rear. After which, a Phorenice will burn
the house here at the mine's head, which is of wood, and straw
thatched, to discourage further egress, and either go to the walls
to watch the fight from there, or sally out also and spur on the
rout as her fancy dictates."
"Your scheme is so pretty, I would I could rob you of it for
my own credit's sake, and as it is, I must kiss you for your
cleverness. But you got my word first, you naughty fellow, and you
shall have the men and do as you ask. Eh, sir, this is a sad
beginning of our wedded life, if you begin to rob your little wife
of all the sweets of conquest from the outset."
She took back the weapons and target she had given to the
armour-bearer, and stepped over the side of the litter to the
ground. "But at least," she said, "if you are going to fight, you
shall have troops that will do credit to my drill," and thereupon
proceeded to tell off the companies of men-at-arms who were to
accompany me. She left herself few enough to stem the influx of
rebels who poured ceaselessly in through the tunnel; but as I had
seen, with Phorenice, heavy odds added only to her enjoyment.
But for the Empress, I will own at the time to have given
little enough of thought. My own proper griefs were raw within me,
and I thirsted for that forgetfulness of all else which battle
gives, so that for awhile I might have a rest from their gnawings.
It made my blood run freer to hear once more the tramp of
practised troops behind me, and when all had been collected, we
marched out through a gate of the city, and presently were charging
through and through the straggling rear of the enemy. By the Gods!
for the moment even Nais was blotted from my wearied mind. Never
had I loved more to let my fierceness run madly riot. Never have
I gloated more abundantly over the terrible joy of battle.
Nais must forgive my weakness in seeking to forget her even
for a breathing-space. Had that opportunity been denied me, I
believe the agony of remembering would have snapped my
brain-strings for always.
Now it would be tedious to tell how with a handful of highly
trained fighting men, I charged and recharged, and finally broke up
that horde of rebels which outnumbered us by fifteen times. It
must be remembered that they grew suddenly panic-stricken in
finding that of all those who went in under the city walls by the
mine on which they had set such great store, none came back, and
that the sounds of panic which had first broken out within the city
soon gave way to cries of triumph and joy. And it must be carried
in memory also that these wretched rebels were without training
worthy of the name, were for the most part weaponed very vilely,
and, seeing that their silly principles made each the equal of his
neighbour, were practically without heads or leaders also.
So when the panic began, it spread like a malignant murrain
through all their ragged ranks, and there were none to rally the
flying, none to direct those of more desperate bravery who stayed
and fought.
My scheme of attack was simple. I hunted them without a halt.
I and my fellows never stopped to play the defensive. We turned
one flank, and charged through a centre, and then we were harrying
the other flank, and once more hacking our passage through the
solid mass. And so by constantly keeping them on the run, and in
ignorance of whence would come the next attack, panic began to grow
amongst them and ferment, till presently those in the outer lines
commenced to scurry away towards the forests and the spoiled
corn-lands of the country, and those in the inner packs were only
wishful of a chance to follow them.
It was no feat of arms this breaking up of the rebel leaguer,
and no practised soldier would wish to claim it as such. It was
simply taking advantage of the chances of the moment, and as such
it was successful. Given an open battle on their own ground, these
desperate rebels would have fought till none could stand, and by
sheer ferocious numbers would have pulled down any trained troops
that the city could have sent against them, whether they had
advanced in phalanx or what formation you will. For it must be
remembered they were far removed from cowards, being Atlantean all,
just as were those within the city, and were, moreover, spurred to
extraordinary savageness and desperation by the oppression under
which they had groaned, and the wrongs they had been forced to
Still, as I say, the poor creatures were scattered, and the
siege was raised from that moment, and it was plain to see that the
rebellion might be made to end, if no unreasonable harshness was
used for its final suppression. Too great severity, though perhaps
it may be justly their portion, only drives such malcontents to
further desperations.
Now, following up these fugitives, to make sure that there was
no halt in their retreat, and to send the lesson of panic
thoroughly home to them, had led us a long distance from the city
walls; and as we had fought all through the burning heat of the day
and my men were heavily wearied, I decided to halt where we were
for the night amongst some half-ruined houses which would make a
temporary fortification. Fortunately, a drove of little
cloven-hoofed horses which had been scared by some of the rebels in
their flight happened to blunder into our lines, and as we killed
five before they were clear again, there was a soldier's supper for
us, and quickly the fires were lit and cooking it.
Sentries paced the outskirts and made their cries to one
another, and the wounded sat by the fires and dressed their hurts,
and with the officers I talked over the engagements of the day, and
the methods of each charge, and the other details of the fighting.
It is the special perquisite of soldiers to dally over these
matters with gusto, though they are entirely without interest for
The hour drew on for sleep, and snores went up from every
side. It was clear that all my officers were wearied out, and only
continued the talk through deference to their commander. Yet I had
a feverish dread of being left alone again with my thoughts, and
pressed them on with conversation remorselessly. But in the end
they were saved the rudeness of dropping off into unconsciousness
during my talk. A sentry came up and saluted. "My lord," he
reported. "there is a woman come up from the city whom we have
caught trying to come into the bivouac."
"How is she named?"
"She will not say."
"Has she business?'
"She will say none. She demands only to see my lord."
"Bring her here to the fire," I ordered, and then on second
thoughts remembering that the woman, whoever she might be, had news
likely enough for my private ear (or otherwise she would not have
come to so uncouth a rendezvous), I said to the sentry: "Stay,"
and got up from the ground beside the fire, and went with him to
the outer line.
"Where is she?" I asked.
"My comrades are holding her. She might be a wench belonging
to these rebels, with designs to put a knife into my lord's heart,
and then we sentries would suffer. The Empress," he added simply,
"seems to set good store upon my lord at present, and we know the
cleverness of her tormentors."
"Your thoughtfulness is frank," I said, and then he showed me
the woman. She was muffled up in hood and cloak, but one who loved
Nais as I loved could not mistake the form of Ylga, her twin
sister, because of mere swathings. So I told the sentries to
release her without asking her for speech, and then led her out
from the bivouac beyond earshot of their lines.
"It is something of the most pressing that has brought you out
here, Ylga?"
"You know me, then? There must be something warmer than the
ordinary between us two, Deucalion, if you could guess who walked
beneath all these mufflings."
I let that pass. "But what's your errand, girl?"
"Aye," she said bitterly, "there's my reward. All your
concern's for the message, none for the carrier. Well, good my
lord, you are husband to the dainty Phorenice no longer."
"This is news."
"And true enough, too. She will have no more of you, divorces
you, spurns you, thrusts you from her, and, after the first
splutter of wrath is done, then come pains and penalties."
"The Empress can do no wrong. I will have you speak
respectful words of the Empress."
"Oh, be done with that old fable! It sickens me. The woman
was mad for love of you, and now she's mad with jealousy. She
knows that you gave Nais some of your priest's magic, and that she
sleeps till you choose to come and claim her, even though the day
be a century from this. And if you wish to know the method of her
enlightenment, it is simple. There is another airshaft next to the
one down which you did your cooing and billing, and that leads to
another cell in which lay another prisoner. The wretch heard all
that passed, and thought to buy enlargement by telling it.
"But his news came a trifle stale. It seems that with the
pressure of the morning's ceremonies, they forgot to bring a
ration, and when at last his gaoler did remember him, it was rather
late, seeing that by then Phorenice had tied herself publicly to a
husband, and poor Nais had doubtless eaten her green drug.
However, the fools must needs try and barter his tale for what it
would fetch; and, as was natural, had such a silly head chopped off
for his pains; and after that your Phorenice behaved as you may
guess. And now you may thank me, sir, for coming to warn you not
to go back to Atlantis."
"But I shall go back. And if the Empress chooses to cut my
head also from its proper column, that is as the High Gods will."
"You are more sick of life than I thought. But I think, sir,
our Phorenice judges your case very accurately. It was permitted
me to hear the outbursting of this lady's rage. 'Shall I hew off
his head?' said she. 'Pah! Shall I give him over to my
tormentors, and stand by whilst they do their worst? He would not
wrinkle his brow at their fiercest efforts. No; he must have a
heavier punishment than any of these, and one also which will
endure. I shall lop off his right hand and his left foot, so that
he may be a fighting man no longer, and then I shall drive him
forth crippled into the dangerous lands, where he may learn Fear.
The beasts shall hunt him, the fires of the ground shall spoil his
rest. He shall know hunger, and he shall breathe bad air. And all
the while he shall remember that I have Nais near me, living and
locked in her coffin of stone, to play with as I choose, and to
give over to what insults may come to my fancy.' That is what she
said, Deucalion. Now I ask you again will you go back to meet her
"No," I said, "it is no part of my plan to be mutilated and
left to live."
"So, being a woman of some sense, I judged. And, moreover,
having some small kindness still left for you, I have taken it upon
myself to make a plan for your further movement which may fall in
with your whim. Does the name of Tob come back to your memory?"
"One who was Captain of Tatho's navy?"
"That same Tob. A gruff, rude fellow, and smelling vile of
tar, but seeming to have a sturdy honesty of his own. Tob sails
away this night for parts unknown, presumably to found a kingdom
with Tob for king. It seems he can find little enough to earn at
his craft in Atlantis these latter days, and has scruples at seeing
his wife and young ones hungry. He told me this at the harbour
side when I put my neck under the axe by saying I wanted carriage
for you, sir, and so having me under his thumb, he was perhaps more
loose-lipped than usual. You seem to have made a fine impression
on Tob, Deucalion. He said--I repeat his hearty disrespect--you
were just the recruit he wanted, but whether you joined him or not,
he would go to the nether Gods to do you service."
"By the fellow's side, I gained some experience in fighting
the greater sea beasts."
"Well, go and do it again. Believe me, sir, it is your only
chance. It would grieve me much to hear the searing-iron hiss on
your stumps. I bargained with Tob to get clear of the harbour
forts before the chain was up for the night, and as he is a very
daring fellow, with no fear of navigating under the darkness, he
himself said he would come to a point of the shore which we agreed
upon, and there await you. Come, Deucalion, let me lead you to the
"My girl," I said, "I see I owe you many thanks for what you
have done on my poor behalf."
"Oh, your thanks!" she said. "You may keep them. I did not
come out here in the dark and the dangers for mere thanks, though
I knew well enough there would be little else offered."--She
plucked at my sleeve.--"Now show me your walking pace, sir. They
will begin to want your countenance in the camp directly, and we
need hanker after no too narrow inquiries for what's along."
So thereon we set off, Ylga and I, leaving the lights of the
bivouac behind us, and she showed the way, whilst I carried my
weapons ready to ward off attacks whether from beasts or from men.
Few words were passed between us, except those which had concern
with the dangers natural to the way. Once only did we touch one
another, and that was where a tree-trunk bridged a rivulet of
scalding water which flowed from a boil-spring towards the sea.
"Are you sure of footing?" I asked, for the night was dark,
and the heat of the water would peel the flesh from the bones if
one slipped into it.
"No," she said, "I am not," and reached out and took my hand.
I helped her over and then loosed my grip, and she sighed, and
slowly slipped her hand away. Then on again we went in silence,
side by side, hour after hour, and league after league.
But at last we topped a rise, and below us through the trees
I could see the gleam of the great estuary on which the city of
Atlantis stands. The ground was soggy and wet beneath us, the
trees were full of barbs and spines, the way was monstrous hard.
Ylga's breath was beginning to come in laboured pants. But when I
offered to take her arm, and help her, as some return against what
she had done for me, she repulsed me rudely enough. "I am no poor
weakling," said she, "if that is your only reason for wanting to
touch me."
Presently, however, we came out through the trees, and the
roughest part of our journey was done. We saw the ship riding to
her anchors in shore a mile away, and a weird enough object she was
under the faint starlight. We made our way to her along the level
Tob was keeping a keen watch. We were challenged the moment
we came within stone or arrow shot, and bidden to halt and recite
our business; but he was civil enough when he heard we were those
whom he expected. He called a crew and slacked out his anchor-rope
till his ship ground against the shingle, and then thrust out his
two steering oars to help us clamber aboard.
I turned to Ylga with words of thanks and farewell. "I will
never forget what you have done for me this night; and should the
High Gods see fit to bring me back to Atlantis and power, you shall
taste my gratitude."
"I do not want to return. I am sick of this old life here."
"But you have your palace in the city, and your servants, and
your wealth, and Phorenice will not disturb you from their
"Oh, as for that, I could go back and be fan-girl tomorrow.
But I do not want to go back."
"Let me tell you it is no time for a gently nurtured lady like
yourself to go forward. I have been viceroy of Yucatan, Ylga, and
know somewhat of making a foothold in these new countries. And
that was nothing compared with what this will be. I tell you it
entails hardships, and privations, and sufferings which you could
not guess at. Few survive who go to colonise in the beginning, and
those only of the hardiest, and they earn new scars and new
batterings every day."
"I do not care, and, besides, I can share the work. I can
cook, I can shoot a good arrow, and I can make garments, yes,
though they were cut from the skins of beasts and had to be sewn
with backbone sinews. Because you despise fine clothes, and
because you have seen me only decked out as fan-girl, you think I
am useless. Bah, Deucalion! Never let people prate to me about
your perfection. You know less about a woman than a boy new from
"I have learned all I care to know about one woman, and because
of the memory of her, I could not presume to ask her sister to
come with me now."
"Aye," she said bitterly, "kick my pride. I knew well enough
it was only second place to Nais I could get all the time I was
wanting to come. Yet no one but a boor would have reminded me of
it. Gods! and to think that half the men in Atlantis have courted
me, and now I am arrived at this!"
"I must go alone. It would have made me happier to take your
esteem with me. But as it is, I suppose I shall carry only your
"That is the most humiliating thing of all; I cannot bring
myself to hate you. I ought to, I know, after the brutal way you
have scorned me. But I do not, and there is the truth. I seem to
grow the fonder of you, and if I thought there was a way of keeping
you alive, and unmutilated, here in Atlantis, I do not think I
should point out that Tob is tired of waiting, and will probably be
off without you." She flung her arms suddenly about my neck, and
kissed me hotly on the mouth. "There, that is for good-bye, dear.
You see I am reckless. I care not what I do now, knowing that you
cannot despise me more than you have done all along for my
She ran back from me into the edge of the trees.
"But this is foolishness," I said. "I must take you through
the dangers that lie between here and some gate of the city, and
then come back to the ship."
"You need not fear for me. The unhappy are always safe. And,
besides, I have a way. It is my solace to know that you will
remember me now. You will never forget that kiss."
"Fare you well, Ylga," I cried. "May the High Gods keep you
entirely in their holy care."
But no reply came back. She had gone off into the forest.
And so I turned down to the beach, and splashed into the water, and
climbed on board the ship up the steering oars. Tob gave the word
to haul-to the anchor, and get her away from the beach.
"Greeting, my lord," said he, "but I'd have been pleased to
see you earlier. We've small enough force and slow enough heels in
this vessel, and it's my idea that the sooner we're away from here
and beyond range of pursuit, the safer it will be for my woman and
brats who are in that hutch of an after-castle. It's long enough
since I sailed in such a small old-fashioned ship as this. She's
no machines, and she's not even a steering mannikin. Look at the
meanness of her furniture and (in your ear) I've suspicions that
there's rottenness in her bottom. But she's the best I'd the means
to buy, and if she reaches the place at the farther end I've got my
eye on, we shall have to make a home there, or be content to die,
for she'll never have strength to carry us farther or back. She's
been a ship in the Egypt trade, and you know what that is for
getting worm and rot in the wood."
"You'd enough hands for your scheme before I came?"
"Oh yes. I've fifty stout lads and eight women packed in the
ship somehow, and trouble enough I've had to get them away from the
city. That thief of a port-captain wellnigh skinned us clean
before he could see it lawful that so many useful fighting men
might go out of harbour. Times are not what they were, I tell you,
and the sea trade's about done. All sailor men of any skill have
taken a woman or two and gone out in companies to try their
fortunes in other lands. Why, I'd trouble enough to get half a
score to help me work this ship. All my balance are just landsmen
raw and simple, and if I land half of them alive at the other end,
we shall be doing well."
"Still with luck and a few good winds it should not take long
to get across to Europe."
Tob slapped his leg. "No savage Europe for me, my lord. Now,
see the advantage of being a mariner. I found once some islands to
the north of Europe, separated from the main by a strait, which I
called the Tin Islands, seeing that tin ore litters many of the
beaches. I was driven there by storm, and said no word of the find
when I got back, and here you see it comes in useful. There's no
one in all Atlantis but me knows of those Tin Islands to-day, and
we'll go and fight honestly for our ground, and build a town and a
kingdom on it."
"With Tob for king?"
"Well, I have figured it out as such for many a day, but I
know when I meet my better, and I'm content to serve under
Deucalion. My lord would have done wiser to have brought a wife
with him, though, and I thought it was understood by the good lady
that spoke to me down at the harbour, or I'd have mentioned it
earlier. The savages in my Tin Islands go naked and stain
themselves blue with woad, and are very filthy and brutish to look
upon. They are sturdy, and should make good slaves, but one would
have to get blunted in the taste before one could wish to be father
to their children."
"I am still husband to Phorenice."
Tob grinned. "The Gods give you joy of her. But it is part
of a mariner's creed--and you will grow to be a mariner here--that
wedlock does not hold across the seas. However, that matter may
rest. But, coming to my Tin Islands again: they'll delight you.
And I tell you, a kingdom will not be so hard to carve out as it
was in Egypt, or as you found in Yucatan. There are beasts there,
of course, and no one who can hunt need ever go hungry. But the
greater beasts are few. There are cave-bears and cave-tigers in
small numbers, to be sure, and some river-horses and great snakes.
But the greater lizards seem to avoid the land; and as for birds,
there is rarely seen one that can hurt a grown man. Oh, I tell
you, it will be a most desirable kingdom."
"Tob seems to have imagined himself king of the Tin Islands
with much reality."
He sighed a little. "In truth I did, and there is no denying
it, and I tell you plain, there is not another man living that I
would have broken this voyage for but Deucalion. But don't think
I regret it, and don't think I want to push myself above my place.
This breeze and the ebb are taking the old ship finely along her
ways. See those fire baskets on the harbour forts? We're abreast
of them now. We'll have dropped them and the city out of sight by
daylight, and the flood will not begin to run up till then. But I
fear unless the wind hardens down with the dawn we'll have to bring
up to an anchor when the flood makes. Tides run very hard in these
narrow seas. Aye, and there are some shrewdish tide-rips round my
Tin Islands, as you shall see when we reach them."
There were many fearful glances backwards when day came and
showed the waters, and the burning mountains that hemmed them in
beyond the shores. All seemed to expect some navy of Phorenice to
come surging up to take them back to servitude and starvation in
the squalid wards of the city; and I confess ingenuously that I was
with them in all truth when they swore they would fight the ship
till she sank beneath them, before they would obey another of the
commands of Phorenice. However, their brave heroics were displayed
to no small purpose. For the full flow of the tide we hung in our
place, barely moving past the land, but yet not seeing either oar
or sail; and then, when the tide turned, away we went once more
with speed, mightily comforted.
Tob's woman must needs bring drink on deck, and bid all pour
libations to her as a future queen. But Tob cuffed her back into
the after-castle, slamming to the hatch behind her heels, and
bidding the crew send the liquor down their dusty throats. "We are
done with that foolery," said he. "My Lord Deucalion will be king
of this new kingdom we shall build in the Tin Islands, and a right
proper king he'll make, as you untravelled ones would know, if
you'd sailed the outer seas with him as I have done." Beneath
which I read a regret, but said nothing, having made my plans from
the moment of stepping on board, as will appear on a later sheet.
So on down the great estuary we made our way, and though it
pleasured the others on board when they saw that the seas were
desolate of sails, it saddened me when I recalled how once the
waters had been whitened with the glut of shipping.
They had started off on their voyage with a bare two days'
provision in their equipment, and so, of necessity even after
leaving the great estuary, we were forced to voyage coastwise,
putting into every likely river and sheltered beach to slay fish
and meat for future victualling. "And when the winter comes," said
Tob, "as its gales will be heavier than this old ship can stomach,
I had determined to haul up and make a permanent camp ashore, and
get a crop of grain grown and threshed before setting sail again.
It is the usual custom in these voyages. And I shall do it still,
subject to my lord's better opinion."
So here, having by this time completed a two months' leisurely
journey from the city, I saw my opportunity to speak what I had
always carried in my mind. "Tob," I said, "I am a poor, weak,
defenceless man, and I am quite at your mercy, but what if I do not
voyage all the way to the Tin Islands, and oust you of this
He brightened perceptibly. "Aye," he grunted, "you are very
weak, my lord, and mighty defenceless. We know all about that.
But what's else? You must tell all your meaning plain. I'm a
common mariner, and understand little of your fancy talk."
"Why, this. That it is not my wish to leave the continent of
Atlantis. If you will put me down on any part of this side that
faces Europe, I will commend you strongly to the Gods. I would I
could give you money, or (better still) articles that would be
useful to you in your colonising; but as it is, you see me
"As to that, you owe me nothing, having done vastly more than
your share each time we have put in shore for the hunting. But it
will not do, this plan of yours. I will shamedly confess that the
sound of that kingship in my Tin Islands sounds sweet to me. But
no, my lord, it will not do. You are no mariner yet, and
understand little of geography, but I must tell you that the part
of Atlantis there"--he jerked his thumb towards the line of trees,
and the mountains which lay beyond the fringe of surf--"is called
the Dangerous Lands, and a man must needs be a salamander and be
learned in magic (so I am told) before he can live there."
I laughed. "We of the Priests' Clan have some education, Tob,
though it may not be on the same lines as your own. In fact, I may
say I was taught in the colleges concerning the boundaries and the
contents of our continent with a nicety that would surprise you.
And once ashore, my fate will still be under the control of the
most High Gods."
He muttered something in his profane seaman's way about
preferring to keep his own fate under control of his own most
strong right arm, but saying that he would keep the matter in his
thoughts, he excused himself hurriedly to go and see to somewhat
concerning the working of the ship, and there left me.
But I think the sweets of kingly rule were a strong argument
in favour of letting me have my way (which I should have had
otherwise if it had not been given peacefully), and on the third
day after our talk he put the ship inshore again for
re-victualling. We lurched into a river-mouth, half swamped over
a roaring bar, and ran up against the bank and made fast there to
trees, but booming ourselves a safe distance off with oars and
poles, so that no beast could leap on board out of the thicket.
Fish-spearing and meat-hunting were set about with
promptitude, and on the second day we were happy enough to slay a
yearling river-horse, which gave provisions in all sufficiency. A
space was cleared on the bank, fires were lit, and the meat hung
over the smoke in strips, and when as much was cured as the ship
would carry, the shipmen made a final gorge on what remained,
filled up a great stack of hollow reeds with drinking water, and
were ready to continue the voyage.
With sturdy generosity did Tob again attempt to make me sail
on with them as their future king, and as steadfastly did I make
refusal; and at last stood alone on the bank amongst the gnawed
bones of their feast, with my weapons to bear me company, and he,
and his men, and the women stood in the little old ship, ready to
drop down river with the current.
"At least," said Tob, "we'll carry your memory with us, and
make it big in the Tin Islands for everlasting."
"Forget me," I said, "I am nothing. I am merely an incident
that has come in your way. But if you want to carry some memory
with you that shall endure, preserve the cult of the most High Gods
as it was taught to you when you were children here in Atlantis.
And afterwards, when your colony grows in power, and has come to
sufficient magnificence, you may send to the old country for a
"We want no priest, except one we shall make ourselves, and
that will be me. And as for the old Gods--well, I have laid my
ideas before the fellows here, and they agree to this: We are done
with those old Gods for always. They seem worn out, if one may
judge from Their present lack of usefulness in Atlantis, and,
anyway, there will be no room for Them on the Tin Islands.--Let go
those warps there aft, and shove her head out.--We are under weigh
now, my lord, and beyond recall, and so I am free to tell you what
we have decided upon for our religious exercises. We shall set up
the memory of a living Hero on earth, and worship that. And when
in years to come the picture of his face grows dim, we shall
doubtless make an image of him, as accurate as our art permits, and
build him a temple for shelter, and bring there our offerings and
prayers. And as I say, my lord, I shall be priest, and when I am
dead, the sons of my body shall be priests after me, and the eldest
a king also."
"Let me plead with you," I said. "This must not be."
The ship was drifting rapidly away with the current, and they
were hoisting sail. Tob had to shout to make himself heard. "Aye,
but it shall be. For I, too, am a strong man after my kind, and I
have ordered it so. And if you want the name of our Hero that some
day shall be God, you wear it on yourself. Deucalion shall be God
for our children."
"This is blasphemy," I cried. "Have a care, fool, or this
impiety will sink you."
"We will risk it," he bawled back, "and consider the odds
against us are small. Regard! Here is thy last horn of wine in
the ship, and my woman has treasured it against this moment.
Regard, all men, together with Those above and Those below! I pour
this wine as a libation to Deucalion, great lord that is to-day,
Hero that shall be to-morrow, God that will be in time to come!"
And then all those on the ship joined in the acclaim till they were
beyond the reach of my voice, and were battling their way out to
sea through the roaring breakers of the bar.
Solitary I stood at the brink of the forest, looking after
them and musing sadly. Tob, despite his lowly station, was a man
I cared for more than many. Like all seamen, I knew that he paid
his devotions to one of the obscurer Gods, but till then I had
supposed him devout in his worship. His new avowal came to me as
a desolating shock. If a man like Tob could forsake all the older
Gods to set up on high some poor mortal who had momentarily caught
his fancy, what could be expected from the mere thoughtless mob,
when swayed by such a brilliant tongue as Phorenice's? It seemed
I was to begin my exile with a new dreariness added to all the
other adverse prospects of Atlantis.
But then behind me I heard the rustle of some great beast that
had scented me, and was coming to attack through the thicket, and
so I had other matters to think upon. I had to let Tob and his
ship go out over the rim of the horizon unwatched.
Since the days when man was first created upon the earth by
Gods who looked down and did their work from another place, there
have always been areas of the land ill-adapted for his maintenance,
but none more so than that part of Atlantis which lies over against
the savage continents of Europe and Africa. The common people
avoid it, because of a superstition which says that the spirits of
the evil dead stalk about there in broad daylight, and slay all
those that the more open dangers of the place might otherwise
spare. And so it has happened often that the criminals who might
have fled there from justice, have returned of their own free will,
and voluntarily given themselves up to the tormentors, rather than
face its fabulous terrors.
To the educated, many of these legends are known to be
mythical; but withal there are enough disquietudes remaining to
make life very arduous and stocked with peril. Everywhere the
mountains keep their contents on the boil; earth tremors are every
day's experience; gushes of unseen evil vapours steal upon one with
such cunningness and speed, that it is often hard to flee in time
before one is choked and killed; poisons well up into the rivers,
yet leave their colour unchanged; great cracks split across the
ground reaching down to the fires beneath, and the waters gush into
these, and are shot forth again with devastating explosion; and
always may be expected great outpourings of boiling mud or molten
Yet with all this, there are great sombre forests in these
lands, with trees whose age is unimaginable, and fires amongst the
herbage are rare. All beneath the trees is water, and the air is
full of warm steam and wetness. For a man to live in that constant
hot damp is very mortifying to the strength. But strength is
wanted, and cunning also beyond the ordinary, for these dangerous
lands are the abode of the lizards, which of all beasts grow to the
most enormous size and are the most fearsome to deal with.
There are countless families and species of these lizards, and
with some of them a man can contend with prospect of success. But
there are others whose hugeness no human force can battle against.
One I saw, as it came up out of a lake after gaining its day's
food, that made the wet land shake and pulse as it trod. It could
have taken Phorenice's mammoth into its belly,* and even a mammoth
in full charge could not have harmed it. Great horny plates
covered its head and body, and on the ridge of its back and tail
and limbs were spines that tore great slivers from the black trees
as it passed amongst them.
* TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Professor Reeder of the Wyoming
State University has recently unearthed the skeleton of a
Brontosaurus, 130 ft. in length, which would have weighed 50 tons
when alive. It was 35 ft. in height at the hips, and 25 ft. at the
shoulder, and 40 people could be seated with comfort within its
ribs. Its thigh bone was 8 ft. long. The fossils of a whole
series of these colossal lizards have been found.
Now and again these monsters would get caught in some vast
fissuring of the ground, but not often. Their speed of foot was
great, and their sagacity keen. They seemed to know when the worst
boilings of the mountains might be expected, and then they found
safety in the deeper lakes, or buried themselves in wallows of the
mud. Moreover, they were more kindly constituted than man to
withstand one great danger of these regions, in that the heat of
the water did them no harm. Indeed, they will lie peacefully in
pools where sudden steam-bursts are making the water leap into
boiling fountains, and I have seen one run quickly across a flow of
molten rock which threatened to cut it off, and not be so much as
singed in the transit.
In the midst of such neighbours, then, was my new life thrown,
and existence became perilous and hard to me from the outset. I
came near to knowing what Fear was, and indeed only a fervent trust
in the most High Gods, and a firm belief that my life was always
under Their fostering care, prevented me from gaining that horrid
knowledge. For long enough, till I learned somewhat of the ways of
this steaming, sweltering land, I was in as miserable a case as
even Phorenice could have wished to see me. My clothes rotted from
my back with the constant wetness, till I went as naked as a savage
from Europe; my limbs were racked with agues, and I could find no
herbs to make drugs for their relief; for days together I could
find no better food than tree-grubs and leaves; and often when I
did kill beasts, knowing little of their qualities, I ate those
that gave me pain and sickness.
But as man is born to make himself adaptable to his
surroundings, so as the months dragged on did I learn the
limitation of this new life of mine, and gather some knowledge of
its resources. As example: I found a great black tree, with a
hollow core, and a hole into its middle near the roots. Here I
harboured, till one night some monstrous lizard, whose sheer weight
made the tree rock like a sapling, endeavoured to suck me forth as
a bird picks a worm from a hollow log. I escaped by the will of
the Gods--I could as much have done harm to a mountain as injure
that horny tongue with my weapons--but I gave myself warning that
this chance must not happen again.
So I cut myself a ladder of footholes on the inside of the
trunk till I had reached a point ten man-heights from the ground,
and there cut other notches, and with tree branches made a floor on
which I might rest. Later, for luxury, I carved me arrow-slit
windows in the walls of my chamber, and even carried up sand for a
hearth, so that I might cook my victual up there instead of
lighting a fire in all the dangers of the open below.
By degrees, too, I began to find how the large-scaled fish of
the rivers and the lesser turtles might be more readily captured,
and so my ribs threatened less to start through their proper
covering of skin as the days went on. But the lack of salads and
gruels I could never overcome. All the green meat was tainted so
powerfully with the taste of tars that never could I force my
palate to accept it. And of course, too, there remained the peril
of the greater lizards and the other dangers native to the place.
But as the months began to mount into years, and the brute
part of my nature became more satisfied, there came other longings
which it was less easy to provide for. From the ivory of a river
horse's tooth I had endeavoured to carve me a representative of
Nais as last I had seen her. But, though my fingers might be
loving, and my will good, my art was of the dullest, and the
result--though I tried time and time again--was always clumsy and
pitiful. Still, in my eyes it carried some suggestion of the
original--a curve here, an outline there, and it made my old love
glow anew within me as I sat and ate it with my eyes. Yet it did
little to satisfy my longings for the woman I had lost; rather
it whetted my cravings to be with her again, or at least to have
some knowledge of her fate.
Other men of the Priests' Clan have come out and made an abode
in these Dangerous Lands, and by mortifying the flesh, have gained
an intimacy with the Higher Mysteries which has carried them far
past what mere human learning and repetition could teach. Indeed,
here and there one, who from some cause and another has returned to
the abodes of men, has carried with him a knowledge that has
brought him the reputation amongst the vulgar for the workings of
magic and miracles, which--since all arts must be allowed which aid
so holy a cause--have added very materially to the ardour with
which these common people pursue the cult of the Gods. But for
myself I could not free my mind to the necessary clearness for
following these abstruse studies. During that voyage home from
Yucatan I had communed with them with growing insight; but now my
mind was not my own. Nais had a lien upon it, and refused to be
ousted; and, in truth, her sweet trespass was my chief solace.
But at last my longing could no further be denied. Through
one of the arrow-slit windows of my tree-house I could see far away
a great mountain top whitened with perpetual snow, which our Lord
the Sun dyed with blood every night of His setting. Night after
night I used to watch that ruddy light with wide straining eyes.
Night after night I used to remember that in days agone when I was
entering upon the priesthood, it had been my duty to adore our
great Lord as He rose for His day behind the snows of that very
mountain. And always the thought followed on these musings, that
from that distant crest I could see across the continent to the
Sacred Mount, which had the city below it where I had buried my
love alive.
So at last I gave way and set out, and a perilous journey I
made of it. In the heavy mists, which hung always on the lower
ground, my way lay blind before me, and I was constantly losing it.
Indeed, to say that I traversed three times the direct distance is
setting a low estimate. Throughout all those swamps the great
lizards hunted, and as the country was new to me I did not know
places of harbour, and a hundred times was within an ace of being
spied and devoured at a mouthful. But the High Gods still desired
me for Their own purposes, and blinded the great beasts' eyes when
I slunk to cover as they passed. Twice rivers of scalding water
roared boiling across my path, and I had to delay till I could
collect enough black timber from the forests to build rafts that
would give me dry ferriage.
It will be seen then that my journey was in a way infinitely
tedious, but to me, after all those years of waiting, the time
passed on winged feet. I had been separated from my love till I
could bear the strain no longer; let me but see from a distance the
place where she lay, and feast my eyes upon it for a while, and
then I could go back to my abode in the tree and there remain
patiently awaiting the will of the Gods.
The air grew more chilly as I began to come out above the
region of trees, on to that higher ground which glares down on the
rest of the world, and I made buskins and a coat of woven grasses
to protect my body from the cold, which began to blow upon me
keenly. And later on, where the snow lay eternally, and was blown
into gullies, and frozen into solid banks and bergs of ice, I had
hard work to make any progress amongst its perilous mazes, and was
moreover so numbed by the chill, that my natural strength was
vastly weakened. Overhead, too, following me up with forbidding
swoops, and occasionally coming so close that I had to threaten it
with my weapons, was one of those huge man-eating birds which live
by pulling down and carrying off any creature that their instincts
tell them is weakly, and likely soon to die.
But the lure ahead of me was strong enough to make these
difficulties seem small, and though the air of the mountain agreed
with me ill, causing sickness and panting, I pressed on with what
speed I could muster towards the elusive summit. Time after time
I thought the next spurt would surely bring me out to the view for
which my soul yearned, but always there seemed another bank of snow
and ice yet to be climbed. But at last I reached the crest, and
gave thanks to the most High Gods for Their protection and favour.
Far, far away I could see the Sacred Mountain with its ring of
fires burning pale under the day, and although the splendid city
which nestled at its foot could not be seen from where I stood, I
knew its position and I knew its plan, and my soul went out to that
throne of granite in the square before the royal pyramid, where
once, years before, I had buried my love. Had Phorenice left the
tomb unviolated?
I stood there leaning on my spear, filling my eye with the
prospect, warming even to the smoke of mountains that I recognised
as old acquaintances. Gods! how my love burned within me for this
woman. My whole being seemed gone out to meet her, and to leave
room for nothing beside. For long enough a voice seemed dimly to
be calling me, but I gave it no regard. I had come out to that
hoary mountain top for communion with Nais alone, and I wanted none
others to interrupt.
But at length the voice calling my name grew too loud to be
neglected, and I pulled myself out of my sweet musing with a start
to think that here, for the first time since parting with Tob and
his company, I should see another human fellow-being. I gripped my
weapon and asked who called. The reply came clearly from up the
slopes of mountain, and I saw a man coming towards me over the
snows. He was old and feeble. His body was bent, and his hair and
beard were white as the ground on which he trod, and presently I
recognised him as Zaemon. He was coming towards me with incredible
speed for a man of his years and feebleness, but he carried in his
hand the glowing Symbol of our Lord the Sun, and holy strength from
this would add largely to his powers.
He came close to me and made the sign of the Seven, which I
returned to him, with its completion, with due form and ceremony.
And then he saluted me in the manner prescribed as messenger
appointed by the High Council of the Priests seated before the Ark
of the Mysteries, and I made humble obeisance before him.
"In all things I will obey the orders that you put before me,"
I said.
"Such is your duty, my brother. The command is, that you
return immediately to the Sacred Mountain, so that if human means
may still prevail, you, as the most skilful general Atlantis owns
within her borders, may still save the country from final wreck and
punishment. The woman Phorenice persists in her infamies. The
poor land groans under her heel. And now she has laid siege to our
Sacred Mountain itself, and swears that not one soul shall be left
alive in all Atlantis who does not bend humbly to her will."
"It is a command and I obey it. But let me ask of another
matter that is intimate to both of us. What of Nais?"
"Nais rests where you left her, untouched. Phorenice knows by
her arts--she has stolen nearly all the ancient knowledge now--that
still you live, and she keeps Nais unharmed beneath the granite
throne in the hopes that some time she may use her as a weapon
against you. Little she knows the sternness of our Priests' creed,
my brother. Why, even I, that am the girl's father, would
sacrifice her blithely, if her death or ruin might do a tittle of
good to Atlantis."
"You go beyond me with your devotion."
The old man leaned forward at me, with glowering brow.
"Or my old blind adherence to the ancient dogma has been
sapped and weakened by events. You must buy my full obedience,
Zaemon, if you want it. Promise me Nais--and your arts I know can
snatch her--and I will be true servant to the High Council of the
Priest, and will die in the last ditch if need be for the carrying
out of order. But let me see Nais given over to the fury of that
wanton woman, and I shall have no inwards left, except to take my
vengeance, and to see Atlantis piled up in ruins as her funeralstone."
Zaemon looked at me bitterly. "And you are the man the High
Council thought to trust as they would trust one of themselves?
Truly we are in an age of weak men and faithless now. But, my
lord--nay, I must call you brother still: we cannot be too nice in
our choosing to-day--you are the best there is, and we must have
you. We little thought you would ask a price for your generalship,
having once taken oath on the walls of the Ark of the Mysteries
itself that always, come what might, you would be a servant of the
High Council of the Clan without fee and without hope of
advancement. But this is the age of broken vows, and you are going
no more than trim with the fashion. Indeed, brother, perhaps I
should thank you for being no more greedy in your demands."
"You may spare me your taunts. You, by self-denial and
profound search into the highest of the higher Mysteries, have made
yourself something wiser than human; I have preserved my humanity,
and with it its powers and frailties; and it seems that each of us
has his proper uses, or you would not be come now here to me.
Rather you would have done the generalling yourself."
"You make a warm defence, my brother. But I have no leisure
now to stand before you with argument. Come to the Sacred
Mountain, fight me this wanton, upstart Empress, and by my beard
you shall have your Nais as you left her as a reward."
"It is a command of the High Council which shall be obeyed.
I will come with my brother now, as soon as he is rested."
"Nay," said the old man, "I have no tiredness, and as for
coming with me, there you will not be able. But follow at what
pace you may."
He turned and set off down the snowy slopes of the mountain
and I followed; but gradually he distanced me; and so he kept on,
with speed always increasing, till presently he passed out of my
sight round the spur of an ice-cliff, and I found myself alone on
the mountain side. Yes, truly alone. For his footmarks in the
snow from being deep, grew shallower, and less noticeable, so that
I had to stoop to see them. And presently they vanished entirely,
and the great mountain's flank lay before me trackless, and
untrodden by the foot of man since time began.
I was not shaken by any great amazement. Though it was beyond
my poor art to compass this thing myself, having occupied my mind
in exile more with memories of Nais than in study of those
uppermost recesses of the Higher Mysteries in which Zaemon was so
prodigiously wise, still I had some inkling of his powers.
Zaemon I knew would be back again in his dwelling on the
Sacred Mountain, shaken and breathless, even before I had found an
end to his tracks in the snow, and it behoved me to join him there
in the quickest possible time. I had his promise now for my
reward, and I knew that he would carry it into effect. Beforetime
I had made an error. I had valued Atlantis most, and Nais, my
private love, as only second. But now it was in my mind to be
honest with others even as with myself. Though all the world were
hanging on my choice, I could but love my Nais most, and serve her
first and foremost of all.
Now, my passage across the great continent of Atlantis, if
tedious and haunted by many dangers, need not be recounted in
detail here. Only one halt did I make of any duration, and that
was unavoidable. I had killed a stag one day, bringing it down
after a long chase in an open savannah. I scented the air
carefully, to see if there was any other beast which could do me
harm within reach, and thinking that the place was safe, set about
cutting my meat, and making a sufficiency into a bundle for
But underfoot amongst the grasses there was a great legged
worm, a monstrous green thing, very venomous in its bite; and
presently as I moved I brushed it with my heel, and like the dart
of light it swooped with its tiny head and struck me with its fangs
in the lower thigh. With my knife I cut through its neck and it
fell to writhing and struggling and twining its hundred legs into
all manner of contortions; and then, cleaning my blade in the
ground, I stabbed with it deep all round the wound, so that the
blood might flow freely and wash the venom from its lodgement. And
then with the blood trickling healthily down from my heel, I
shouldered the meat and strode off, thankful for being so well quit
of what might have made itself a very ugly adventure.
As I walked, however, my leg began to be filled with a
tightness and throbbing which increased every hour, and presently
it began to swell also, till the skin was stretched like drawn
parchment. I was taken, too, with a sickness, that racked me
violently, and if one of the greater and more dangerous beasts had
come upon me then, he would have eaten me without a fight. With
the fall of darkness I managed to haul myself up into a tree, and
there abode in the crutch of a limb, in wakefulness and pain
throughout the night.
With the dawn, when the night beasts had gone to their lairs,
I clambered down again, and leaning heavily on my spear, limped
onwards through the sombre forests along my way. The moss which
grows on the northern side of each tree was my guide, but gradually
I began to note that I was seeing moss all round the trees, and, in
fact, was growing light-headed with the pain and the swelling of
the limb. But still I pressed onwards with my journey, my last
instinct being to obey the command of the High Council, and so
procure the enlargement of Nais as had been promised.
My last memory was of being met by someone in the black forest
who aided me, and there my waking senses took wings into
But after an interval, wit returned, and I found myself on a
bed of leaves in a cleft between two rocks, which was furnished
with some poor skill, and fortified with stakes and buildings
against the entrance of the larger marauding beasts. My wound was
dressed with a poultice of herbs, and at the other side of the
cavern there squatted a woman, cooking a mess of wood-grubs and
honey over a fire of sticks.
"How came I here?" I asked.
"I brought you," said she.
"And who are you?"
"A nymph, they call me, and I practise as such, collecting
herbs and curing the diseases of those that come to me, telling
fortunes, and making predictions. In return I receive what each
can afford, and if they do not pay according to their means, I clap
on a curse to make them wither. It's a lean enough living when
wars and the pestilence have left so few poor folk to live in the
"Do you visit Atlantis?"
"Not I. Phorenice would have me boiled in brine, living, if
she could lay easy hands on me. Our dainty Empress tolerates no
magic but her own. They say she is for pulling down the Priests
off their Mountain now."
"So you do get news of the city?"
"Assuredly. It is my trade to get good news, or otherwise how
could I tell fortunes to the vulgar? You see, my lord, I detected
your quality by your speech, and knowing you are not one of those
that come to me for spells, and potions, I have no fear in speaking
to you plainly."
"Tell me then: Phorenice still reigns?"
"Most vilely."
"As a maiden?"
"As the mother of twin sons. Tatho's her husband now, and has
been these three years."
"Tatho! Who followed him as viceroy of Yucatan?"
"There is no Yucatan. A vast nation of little hairy men, so
the tale goes, coming from the West overran the country. They had
clubs of wood tipped with stone as their only arm, but numbers made
their chief weapon. They had no desire for plunder, or the taking
of slaves, or the conquering of cities. To eat the flesh of
Atlanteans was their only lust, and they followed it prodigiously.
Their numbers were like the bees in a swarm.
"They came to each of the cities of Yucatan in turn, and
though the colonists slew them in thousands, the weight of numbers
always prevailed. They ate clean each city they took, and left it
to the beasts of the forest, and went on to the next. And so in
time they reached the coast towns, and Tatho and the few that
survived took ship, and sailed home. They even ate Tatho's wife
for him. They must be curious persevering things, these little
hairy men. The Gods send they do not get across the seas to
Atlantis, or they would be worse plague to the poor country than
Now I had heard of these little hairy creatures before, and
though indeed I had never seen them, I had gathered that they were
a little less than human and a little more than bestial; a link so
to speak between the two orders; and specially held in check by the
Gods in certain forest solitudes. Also I had learned that on
occasion, when punishment was needful, they could be set loose as
a devastating army upon men, devouring all before them. But I said
nothing of this to the nymph, she being but a vulgar woman, and
indeed half silly, as is always the case with these self-styled
sorceresses who gull the ignorant, common folk. But within myself
I was bitterly grieved at the fate of that fine colony of Yucatan,
in which I had expended such an infinity of pains to do my share of
the building.
But it did not suit my purpose to have my name and quality
blazoned abroad till the time was full, and so I said nothing to
the nymph about Yucatan, but let the talk continue upon other
matters. "What about Egypt?" I asked.
"In its accustomed darkness, so they say. Who cares for Egypt
these latter years? Who cares for anyone or anything for that
matter except for himself and his own proper estate? Time was when
the country folk and the hunters hereabouts brought me offerings to
this cave for sheer piety's sake. But now they never come near
unless they see a way of getting good value in return for their
gifts. And, by result, instead of living fat and hearty, I make
lean meals off honey and grubs. It's a poor life, a nymph's, in
these latter years I tell you, my lord. It's the fashion for all
classes to believe in no kind of mystery now."
"What manner of pestilence is this you spoke of?"
"I have not seen it. Thank the Gods it has not come this way.
But they do say that it has grown from the folk Phorenice has
slain, and whose bodies remain unburied. She is always slaying,
and so the bodies lie thicker than the birds and beasts can eat
them. For which of our sins, I wonder, did the Gods let Phorenice
come to reign? I wish that she and her twins were boiled alive in
brine before they came between an honest nymph of the forest and
her living.
"They say she has put an image of herself in all the temples
of the city now, and has ordered prayers and sacrifices to be made
night and morning. She has decreed all other Gods inferior to
herself and forbidden their worship, and those of the people that
are not sufficiently devout for her taste, have their hamstrings
slit by their tormentors to aid them constantly into a devotional
attitude.--Will you eat of my grubs and honey? There is nothing
else. Your back was bloody with carrying meat when I met you, but
you had lost your load. You must either taste this mess of mine
now, or go without."
I harboured with that nymph in cave six days, she using her
drugs and charms to cure my leg the while, and when I was
recovered, I hunted the plains and killed her a fat cloven-hoofed
horse as payment, and then went along my ways.
The country from there onwards had at one time carried a
sturdy population which held its own firmly, and, as its numbers
grew, took in more ground, and built more homesteads farther
afield. The houses were perched in trees for the most part, as
there they were out of reach of cave-bear and cave-tiger and the
other more dangerous beasts. But others, and these were the better
ones, were built on the ground, of logs so ponderous and so firmly
clamped and dovetailed that the beasts could not pull them down,
and once inside a house of this fashion its owners were safe, and
could progue at any attackers through the interstices between the
logs, and often wound, sometimes make a kill.
But not one in ten of these outlying settlers remained. The
houses were silent when I reached them, the fire-hearth before the
door weed-grown, and the patch of vegetables taken back by the
greedy fingers of the forest into mere scrub and jungle. And
farther on, when villages began to appear, strongly-walled as the
custom is, to ward off the attacks of beasts, the logs which
aforetime had barred the gateway lay strewn in a sprouting
undergrowth, and naught but the kitchen middens remained to prove
that once they had sheltered human tenants. Phorenice's influence
seemed to have spread as though it were some horrid blight over the
whole face of what was once a smiling and an easy-living land.
So far I had met with little enough interference from any men
I had come across. Many had fled with their women into the depths
of the forest at the bare sight of me; some stood their ground with
a threatening face, but made no offer to attack, seeing that I did
not offer them insult first; and a few, a very few, offered me
shelter and provision. But as I neared the city, and began to come
upon muddy beaten paths, I passed through governments that were
more thickly populated, and here appeared strong chance of delay.
The watcher in the tower which is set above each village would spy
me and cry: "Here is a masterless man," and then the people that
were within would rush out with intent to spoil me of my weapons,
and afterwards to appoint me as a labourer.
I had no desire to slay these wretched folk, being filled with
pity at the state to which they had fallen; and often words served
me to make them stand aside from the path, and stare wonderingly at
my fierceness, and let me go my ways. And when at other times
words had no avail, I strove to strike as lightly as could be, my
object being to get forward with my journey and leave no
unnecessary dead behind me. Indeed, having found the modern way of
these villages, it grew to be my custom to turn off into the
forest, and make a circuit whenever I came within smell of their
Similarly, too, when I got farther on, and came amongst
greater towns also, I kept beyond challenge of their walls, having
no mind to risk delay from the whim of any new law which might
chance to be set up by their governors. My progress might be
slinking, but my pride did not upbraid me very loudly; indeed, the
fever of haste burned within me so hot and I had little enough
carrying space for other emotions.
But at last I found myself within a half-day's journey the
city of Atlantis itself, with the Sacred Mountain and its ring of
fires looming high beside it, and the call for caution became
trebly accentuated. Everywhere evidences showed that the country
had been drained of its fighting men. Everywhere women prayed that
the battles might end with the rout of the Priests or the killing
of Phorenice, so that the wretched land might have peace and time
to lick its wounds.
An army was investing the sacred Mountain, and its one
approach was most narrowly guarded. Even after having journeyed so
far, it seemed as if I should have to sit hopelessly down without
being able to carry out the orders which had been laid upon me by
the High Council, and earn the reward which had been promised.
Force would be useless here. I should have one good fight--a
gorgeous fight--one man against an army, and my usefulness would be
ended. . . . No; this was the occasion for guile, and I found
covert in the outskirts of a wood, and lay there cudgelling my
brain for a plan.
Across the plain before me lay the grim great walls of the
city, with the heads of its temples, and its palaces, and its
pyramids showing beyond. The step-sides of the royal pyramid held
my eye. Phorenice had expended some of her new-found store of gold
in overlaying their former whiteness with sheets of shining yellow
metal. But it was not that change that moved me. I was remembering
that, in the square before the pyramid, there stood a throne of
granite carved with the snake and the outstretched hand, and in the
hollow beneath the throne was Nais, my love, asleep these eight
years now because of the drug that had been given to her, but alive
still, and waiting for me, if only I on my part could make a way to
the place where Zaemon defied the Empress, and announce my coming.
In that covert of the woods I lay a day and a night raging
with myself for not discovering some plan to get within the
defences of the Sacred Mountain, but in the morning which followed,
there came a man towards me running.
"You need not threaten me with your weapons," he cried. "I
mean no harm. It seems that you are Deucalion; though I should not
have known you myself in those rags and skins, and behind that
tangle of hair and beard. You will give me your good word I know.
Believe me, I have not loitered unduly."
He was a lower priest whom I knew, and held in little esteem;
his name was Ro, a greedy fellow and not overworthy of trust.
"From whom do you come?" I asked.
"Zaemon laid a command on me. He came to my house, though how
he got there I cannot tell, seeing that Phorenice's army blocks all
possible passage to and from the Mountain. I told him I wished to
be mixed with none of his schemings. I am a peaceful man,
Deucalion, and have taken a wife who requires nourishment. I still
serve in the same temple, though we have swept out the old Gods by
order of the Empress, and put her image in their place. The people
are tidily pious nowadays, those that are left of them, and the
living is consequently easy. Yes, I tell you there are far more
offerings now than there were in the old days. And so I had no
wish to be mixed with matters which might well make me be deprived
of a snug post, and my head to boot."
"I can believe it all of you, Ro."
"But there was no denying Zaemon. He burst into one of his
black furies, and while he spoke at me, I tell you I felt as good
as dead. You know his powers?"
"I have seen some of them."
"Well, the Gods alone know which are the true Gods, and which
are the others. I serve the one that gives me employment. But
those that Zaemon serves give him power, and that's beyond denying.
You see that right hand of mine? It is dead and paralysed from the
wrist, and that is a gift of Zaemon. He bestowed it, he said, to
make me collect my attention. Then he said more hard things
concerning what he was pleased to term my apostasy, not letting me
put up a word in my own defence of how the change was forced upon
me. And finally, said he, I might either do his bidding on a
certain matter to the letter, or take that punishment which my
falling away from the old Gods had earned. 'I shall not kill you,'
said he, 'but I will cover all your limbs with a paralysis, such as
you have tasted already, and when at length death reaches you in
some gutter, you will welcome it.'"
"If Zaemon said those words, he meant them. So you accepted
the alternative?"
"Had I, with a wife depending on me, any other choice? I
asked his pleasure. It was to find you when you came in here from
some distant part of the land, and deliver to you his message.
"'Then tell me where is the meeting place,' said I, 'and
"'There is none appointed, nor is the day fixed,' said he.
'You must watch and search always for him. But when he comes, you
will be guided to his place.' Well, Deucalion, I think I was
guided, but how, I do not know. But now I have found you, and if
there's such a thing as gratitude, I ask you to put in your word
with Zaemon that this deadness be taken away from my hand. It's an
awful thing for a man to be forced to go through life like this,
for no real fault of his own. And Zaemon could cure it from where
he sat, if he was so minded."
"You seem still to have a very full faith in some of the old
Gods' priests," I said. "But so far, I do not see that your errand
is done. I have had no message yet."
"Why, the message is so simple that I do not see why he could
not have got some one else to carry it. You are to make a great
blaze. You may fire the grasses of the plain in front of this wood
if you choose. And on the night which follows, you are to go round
to that flank of the Sacred Mountain away from the city where the
rocks run down sheer, and there they will lower a rope and haul you
up to their hands above."
"It seems easy, and I thank you for your pains. I will ask
Zaemon that your hand may be restored to you."
"You shall have my prayers if it is. And look, Deucalion, it
is a small matter, and it would be less likely to slip your memory
if you saw to it at once on your landing. Later, you may be
disturbed. Phorenice is bound to pull you down off your perch up
there now she has made her mind to it. She never fails, once she
has set her hand to a thing. Indeed, if she was no Goddess at
birth, she is making herself into one very rapidly. She has got
all the ancient learning of our Priests, and more besides. She has
discovered the Secret of Life these recent months--"
"She has found that?" I cried, fairly startled. "How? Tell
me how? Only the Three know that. It is beyond our knowledge even
who are members of the Seven."
"I know nothing of her means. But she has the secret, and now
she is as good an immortal (so she says) as any of them. Well,
Deucalion, it is dangerous for me to be missing from my temple
overlong, so I will go. You will carry that matter we spoke of in
your mind? It means much to me."--His eye wandered over my ragged
person--"And if you think my service is of value to you--"
"You see me poor, my man, and practically destitute."
"Some small coin," he murmured, "or even a link of bronze? I
am at great expense just now buying nourishment for my wife. Well,
if you have nothing, you cannot give. So I'll just bid you
He took himself off then, and I was not sorry. I had never
liked Ro. But I wasted no more precious time then. The grass
blazed up for a signal almost before his timorous heels were clear
of it, and that night when the darkness gave me cover, I took the
risk of what beasts might be prowling, and went to the place
appointed. There was no rope dangling, but presently one came down
the smooth cliff face like some slender snake. I made a loop,
slipped it over a leg, and pulled hard as a signal. Those above
began to haul, and so I went back to the Sacred Mountain after an
absence of so many toilsome and warring years. There were none to
disturb the ascent. Phorenice's troops had no thought to guard
that gaunt, bare, seamless precipice.
The men who hauled me up were old, and panted heavily with
their task, and, until I knew the reason, I wondered why a knot of
younger priests had not been appointed for the duty. But I put no
question. With us of the Priests' Clan on the Sacred Mountain, it
is always taken as granted that when an order is given, it is given
for the best. Besides, these priests did not offer themselves to
question. They took me off at once to Zaemon, and that is what I
could have wished.
The old man greeted me with the royal sign. "All hail to
Deucalion," he cried, "King of Atlantis, duly called thereto by the
High Council of the priests."
"Is Phorenice dead?" I asked.
"It remains for you to slay her, and take your kingdom, if,
indeed, when all is done, there remains a man or a rood of land to
govern. The sentence has gone out that she is to die, and it shall
be carried into effect, even though we have to set loose the most
dreadful powers that are stored in the Ark of the Mysteries, and
wreck this continent in our effort. We have borne with her
infamies all these years by command sent down by the most High
Gods; but now she has gone beyond endurance, and They it is who
have given the word for her cutting off."
"You are one of the highest Three; I am only one of the Seven;
you best know the cost."
"There can be no counting the cost now, my brother, and my
king. It is an order."
"It is an order," I repeated formally, "so I obey."
"If it were not impious to do so, it would be easy to justify
this decision of the Gods. The woman has usurped the throne; yet
she was forgiven and bidden rule on wisely. She has tampered with
our holy religion; yet she was forgiven. She has killed the
peoples of Atlantis in greedy useless wars, and destroyed the
country's trade; yet she was forgiven. She has desecrated the old
temples, and latterly has set up in them images of herself to be
worshipped as a deity; yet she was forgiven. But at last her evil
cleverness has discovered to her the tremendous Secret of Life and
Death, and there she overstepped the boundary of the High Gods'
"I myself went to carry a final warning, and once more faced
her in the great banqueting-hall. Solemnly I recited to her the
edict, and she chose to take it as a challenge. She would live on
eternally herself and she would share her knowledge with those that
pleased her. Tatho that was her husband should also be immortal.
Indeed, if she thought fit, she would cry the secret aloud so that
even the common people might know it, and death from mere age would
become a legend.
"She cared no wit how she might upset the laws of Nature. She
was Phorenice, and was the highest law of all. And finally she
defied me there in that banqueting-hall and defied also the High
Gods that stood behind my mouth. 'My magic is as strong as yours,
you pompous fool,' she cried, 'and presently you shall see the two
stand side by side upon their trial.'
"She began to collect an army from that moment, and we on our
part made our preparations. It was discovered by our arts that you
still lived, and King of Atlantis you were made by solemn election.
How you were summoned, you know as nearly as it is lawful that one
of your degree should know; how you came, you understand best
yourself; but here you are, my brother, and being King now, you
must order all things as you see best for the preservation of your
high estate, and we others live only to give you obedience."
"Then being King, I can speak without seeming to make use of
a threat. I must have my Queen first, or I am not strong enough to
give my whole mind to this ruling."
"She shall be brought here."
"So! Then I will be a General now, and see to the defences of
this place, and view the men who are here to stand behind them."
I went out of the dwelling then, Zaemon giving place and
following me. It was night still but there is no darkness on the
upper part of the Sacred Mountain. A ring of fires, fed eternally
from the earth-breath which wells up from below, burns round onehalf
of the crest, lighting it always as bright as day, and in fact
forming no small part of its fortification. Indeed, it is said
that, in the early dawn of history, men first came to the Mountain
as a stronghold because of the natural defence which the fires
There is no bridging these flames or smothering them. On
either side of their line for a hundred paces the ground glows with
heat, and a man would be turned to ash who tried to cross it.
Round full one-half the mountain slopes the fires make a rampart
unbreakable, and on the other side the rock runs in one sheer
precipice from the crest to the plain which spreads beyond its
foot. But it is on this farther side that there is the only
entrance way which gives passage to the crest of the Sacred
Mountain from below. Running diagonally up the steep face of the
cliff is a gigantic fissure, which succeeding ages (as man has
grown more luxurious) have made more easy to climb.
Looking at the additions, in the ancient days, I can well
imagine that none but the most daring could have made the ascent.
But one generation has thrown a bridge over a bad gap here, and
another has cut into the living stone and widened a ledge there,
till in these latter years there is a path with cut steps and
carved balustrade such as the feeblest or most giddy might traverse
with little effort or exertion. But always when these improvers
made smooth the obstacles, they were careful to weaken in no
possible way the natural defences but rather to add to them.
Eight gates of stone there were cutting the pathway, each
commanding a straight, steep piece of the ascent, and overhanging
each gate was a gallery secure from arrow-shot, yet so contrived
that great stones could be hurled through holes in the floor of it,
in such a manner that they must irretrievably smash to a pulp any
men advancing against it from below. And in caves dug out from the
rock on either hand was a great hoard of these stones, so that no
enemy through sheer expenditure of troops could hope to storm a
gate by exhausting its ammunition.
But though there were eight of these granite gates in the
series, we had the whole number to depend on no longer. The lowest
gate was held by a garrison of Phorenice's troops, who had built a
wall above them to protect their occupation. The gate had been
gained by no brilliant feat of arms--it had been won by threats,
bribery, and promises; or, in other words, it had been given up by
the blackest treachery.
And here lay the keynote of the weakness in our defence. The
most perfect ramparts that brain can invent are useless without men
to line them, and it was men we lacked. Of students entering into
the colleges of the Sacred Mountain, there had been none now for
many a year. The younger generation thought little of the older
Gods. Of the men that had grown up amongst the sacred groves, and
filled offices there, many had become lukewarm in their faith and
remained on only through habit, and because an easy living stayed
near them there; and these, when the siege began, quickly made
their way over to the other side.
Phorenice was no fool to fight against unnecessary strength.
Her heralds made proclamation that peace and a good subsistence
would be given to those who chose to come out to her willingly; and
as an alternative she would kill by torture and mutilation those
she caught in the place when she took it by storm, as she most
assuredly would do before she had finished with it. And so great
was the prestige of her name, that quite one-half of these that
remained on the mountain took themselves away from the defence.
There was no attempt to hold back these sorry priests, nor was
there any punishing them as they went. Zaemon, indeed, was minded
(so he told me with grim meaning himself) to give them some memento
of their apostasy to carry away which would not wear out, but the
others of the High Council made him stay his vengeful hand. And so
when I came to the place the garrison numbered no more than eighty,
counting even feeble old dotards who could barely walk; and of men
not past their prime I could barely command a score.
Still, seeing the narrowness of the passages which led to each
of the gates, up which in no place could more than two men advance
together, we were by no means in desperate straits for the defence
as yet; and if my new-given kingdom was so far small, consisting as
it did in effect of the Sacred Mountain and no other part of
Atlantis, at any rate there seemed little danger of its being
further contracted.
Another of the wise precautions of the men of old stood us in
good stead then. In the ancient times, when grain first was grown
as food, it came to be looked upon as the acme of wealth. Tribute
was always paid from the people to their Priests, and presently, so
the old histories say, it was appointed that this should take the
form of grain, as this was a medium both dignified and fitting.
And those of the people who had it not, were forced to barter their
other produce for grain before they could pay this tribute.
On the Sacred Mountain itself vast storehouses were dug in the
rock, and here the grain was teemed in great yellow heaps, and each
generation of those that were set over it, took a pride in adding
to the accumulation.
In more modern days it had been a custom amongst the younger
and more forward of the Priests to scoff at this ancient provision,
and to hold that a treasure of gold, or weapons, or jewels would
have more value and no less of dignity; and more than once it has
been a close thing lest these innovators should not be out-voted.
But as it was, the old constitution had happily been preserved, and
now in these years of trial the Clan reaped the benefit. And so
with these granaries, and a series of great tanks and cisterns
which held the rainfall, there was no chance of Phorenice reducing
our stronghold by mere close investment, even though she sat down
stubbornly before it for a score of years.
But it was the paucity of men for the defence which oppressed
me most. As I took my way about the head of the Mountain,
inspecting all points, the emptiness of the place smote me like a
succession of blows. The groves, once so trim, were now shaggy and
unpruned. Wind had whirled the leaves in upon the temple floors,
and they lay there unswept. The college of youths held no more now
than a musty smell to bear witness that men had once been grown
there. The homely palaces of the higher Priests, at one time so
ardently sought after, lay many of them empty, because not even one
candidate came forward now to canvass for election.
Evil thoughts surged up within me as I saw these things, that
were direct promptings from the nether Gods. "There must be
something wanting," these tempters whispered, "in a religion from
which so many of its Priests fled at the first pinch of
I did what I could to thrust these waverings resolutely behind
me; but they refused to be altogether ousted from my brain; and so
I made a compromise with myself: First, I would with the help that
might be given me, destroy this wanton Phorenice, and regain the
kingdom which had been given me to my own proper rule; and
afterwards I would call a council of the Seven and council of the
Three, and consider without prejudice if there was any matter in
which our ancient ritual could be amended to suit the more modern
requirements. But this should not be done till Phorenice was dead
and I was firmly planted in her room. I would not be a party, even
to myself, to any plan which smacked at all of surrender.
And there as I walked through the desolate groves and beside
the cold altars, the High Gods were pleased to show their approval
of my scheme, and to give me opportunity to bind myself to it with
a solemn oath and vow. At that moment from His distant
resting-place in the East, our Lord the Sun leaped up to begin
another day. For long enough from where I stood below the crest of
the Mountain, He Himself would be invisible. But the great light
of His glory spread far into the sky, and against it the Ark of the
Mysteries loomed in black outline from the highest crag where it
rested, lonely and terrible.
For anyone unauthorised to go nearer than a thousand paces to
this storehouse of the Highest Mysteries meant instant death. On
that day when I was initiated as one of the Seven, I had been
permitted to go near and once press my lips against its ample
curves; and the rank of my degree gave me the privilege to repeat
that salute again once on each day when a new year was born. But
what lay inside its great interior, and how it was entered, that
was hidden from the Seven, even as it was from the other Priests
and the common people in the city below. Only those who had been
raised to the sublime elevation of the Three had a knowledge of
the dreadful powers which were stored within it.
I went down on my knees where I was, and Zaemon knelt beside
me, and together we recited the prayers which had been said by the
Priests from the beginning of time, giving thanks to our great Lord
that He has come to brighten another day. And then, with my eyes
fixed on the black outline of the Ark of Mysteries I vowed that,
come what might, I at least would be true servant of the High Gods
to my life's end, and that my whole strength should be spent in
restoring Their worship and glory.
Now, from where we stood together just below the crest of the
Sacred Mountain, we could see down into the city, which lay spread
out below us like a map. The harbour and the great estuary gleamed
at its farther side; and the fringe of hills beyond smoked and
fumed in their accustomed fashion; the great stone circle of our
Lord the Sun stood up grim and bare in the middle of the city; and
nearer in reared up the great mass of the royal pyramid, the gold
on its sides catching new gold from the Sun. There, too, in the
square before the pyramid stood the throne of granite, dwarfed by
the distance to the size of a mole's hill, in which these nine
years my love had lain sleeping.
Old Zaemon followed my gaze. "Ay," he said with a sigh, "I
know where your chief interest is. Deucalion when he landed here
new from Yucatan was a strong man. The King whom we have
chosen--and who is the best we have to choose--has his weakness."
"It can be turned into additional strength. Give me Nais
here, living and warm to fight for, and I am a stronger man by far
than the cold viceroy and soldier that you speak about."
"I have passed my word to that already, and you shall have
her, but at the cost of damaging somewhat this new kingdom of
yours. Maybe too at the same time we may rid you of this Phorenice
and her brood. But I do not think it likely. She is too wily, and
once we begin our play, she is likely to guess whence it comes, and
how it will end, and so will make an escape before harm can reach
her. The High Gods, who have sent all these trials for our
refinement, have seen fit to give her some knowledge of how these
earth tremors may be set a-moving."
"I have seen her juggle with them. But may I hear your
"It will be shown you in good time enough. But for the
present I would bid you sleep. It will be your part to go into the
city to-night, and take your woman (that is my daughter) when she
is set free, and bring her here as best you can. And for that you
will need all a strong man's strength."--He stepped back, and
looked me up and down.--"There are not many folk that would take
you for the tidy clean-chinned Deucalion now, my brother. Your
appearance will be a fine armour for you down yonder in the city
to-night when we wake it with our earth-shaking and terror. As you
stand now, you are hairy enough, and shaggy enough, and naked
enough, and dirty enough for some wild savage new landed out of
Europe. Have a care that no fine citizen down yonder takes a fancy
to your thews, and seizes upon you as his servant."
"I somewhat pity him in his household if he does."
Old Zaemon laughed. "Why, come to think of it, so do I."
But quickly he got grave again. Laughter and Zaemon were very
rare playmates. "Well, get you to bed, my King, and leave me to go
into the Ark of Mysteries and prepare there with another of the
Three the things that must be done. It is no light business to
handle the tremendous powers which we must put into movement this
night. And there is danger for us as there is for you. So if by
chance we do not meet again till we stand up yonder behind the
stars, giving account to the Gods, fare you well, Deucalion."
I slept that day as a soldier sleeps, taking full rest out of
the hours, and letting no harassing thought disturb me. It is only
the weak who permit their sleep to be broken on these occasions.
And when the dark was well set, I roused and fetched those who
should attend to the rope. Our Lady the Moon did not shine at that
turn of the month: and the air was full of a great blackness. So
I was out of sight all the while they lowered me.
I reached the tumbled rocks that lay at the deep foot of the
cliff, and then commenced to use a nice caution, because
Phorenice's soldiers squatted uneasily round their camp-fires, as
though they had forebodings of the coming evil. I had no mind to
further stir their wakefulness. So I crept swiftly along in the
darkest of the shadows, and at last came to the spot where that
passage ends which before I had used to get beneath the walls of
the city.
The lamp was in place, and I made my way along the windings
swiftly. The air, so it seemed to me, was even more noxious with
vapours than it had been when I was down there before, and I judged
that Zaemon had already begun to stir those internal activities
which were shortly to convulse the city. But again I had
difficulty in finding an exit, and this, not because there were
people moving about at the places where I had to come out, but
because the set of the masonry was entirely changed. In olden
times the Priests' Clan oversaw all the architects' plans, and
ruled out anything likely to clash with their secret passages and
chambers. But in this modern day the Priests were of small
account, and had no say in this matter, and the architects often
through sheer blundering sealed up and made useless many of these
outlets and hiding-places.
As it was then, I had to get out of the network of tunnels and
galleries where I could, and not where I would, and in the event
found myself at the farther side of the city, almost up to where
the outer wall joins down to the harbour. I came out without being
seen, careful even in this moment of extremity to preserve the
ordinances, and closed all traces of exit behind me. The earth
seemed to spring beneath my feet like the deck of a ship in smooth
water; and though there was no actual movement as yet to disturb
the people, and indeed these slept on in their houses and shelters
without alarm, I could feel myself that the solid deadness of the
ground was gone, and that any moment it might break out into
devastating waves of movement.
Gods! Should I be too late to see the untombing of my love?
Would she be laid there bare to the public gaze when presently the
people swarmed out into the open spaces through fear at what the
great earth tremor might cause to fall? I could see, in fancy,
their rude, cruel hands thrust upon her as she lay there helpless,
and my inwards dried up at the thought.
I ran madly down and down the narrow winding streets with the
one thought of coming to the square which lay in front of the royal
pyramid before these things came to pass. With exquisite cruelty
I had been forced with my own hands to place her alive in her
burying-place beneath the granite throne, and if thews and speed
could do it, I would not miss my reward of taking her forth again
with the same strong hands.
Few disturbed that furious hurry. At first here and there
some wretch who harboured in the gutter cried: "A thief! Throw a
share or I pursue." But if any of these followed, I do not know.
At any rate, my speed then must have out-distanced anyone.
Presently, too, as the swing of the earth underfoot became more
keen, and the stonework of the buildings by the street side began
to grate and groan and grit, and sent forth little showers of dust,
people began to run with scared cries from out of their doors. But
none of these had a mind to stop the ragged, shaggy, savage man who
ran so swiftly past, and flung the mud from his naked feet.
And so in time I came to the great square, and was there none
too soon. The place was filling with people who flocked away from
the narrow streets, and it was full of darkness, and noise, and
dust, and sickness. Beneath us the ground rippled in undulations
like a sea, which with terrifying slowness grew more and more
Ever and again a house crashed down unseen in the gloom, and
added to the tumult. But the great pyramid had been planned by its
old builders to stand rude shocks. Its stones were dovetailed into
one another with a marvellous cleverness, and were further clamped
and joined by ponderous tongues of metal. It was a boast that
one-half the foundations could be dug from beneath it, and still
the pyramid would stand four-square under heaven, more enduring
than the hills.
Flickering torches showed that its great stone doors lay open,
and ever and again I saw some frightened inmate scurry out and then
be lost to sight in the gloom. But with the royal pyramid and its
ultimate fate I had little concern; I did not even care then
whether Phorenice was trapped, or whether she came out sound and
fit for further mischief. I crouched by the granite throne which
stood in the middle of that splendid square, and heard its stones
grate together like the ends of a broken bone as it rocked to the
In that night of dust and darkness it was hard to see the
outline of one's own hand, but I think that the Gods in some
requital for the love which had ached so long within me, gave me
special power of sight. As I watched, I saw the great carved rock
which formed the capstone of the throne move slightly and then move
again, and then again; a tiny jerk for each earth-pulse, but still
there was an appreciable shifting; and, moreover, the stone moved
always to one side.
There was method in Zaemon's desperate work, and this in my
blind panic of love and haste, I had overlooked. So I went up the
steps of the throne on the side from which the great capstone was
moving, and clung there afire with expectation.
More and more violent did the earth-swing grow, though the
graduations of its increase could not be perceived, and the din of
falling houses and the shrieks and cries of hurt and frightened
people went louder up into the night. Thicker grew the dust that
filled the air, till one coughed and strangled in the breathing,
and more black did the night become as the dust rose and blotted
the rare stars from sight. I clung to an angle of the granite
throne, crouching on the uppermost step but one below the capstone,
and could scarcely keep my place against the violence of the earth
But still the huge capstone that was carved with the snake and
the outstretched hand held my love fast locked in her living tomb,
and I could have bit the cold granite at the impotence which barred
me from her. The people who kept thronging into the square were
mad with terror, but their very numbers made my case more desperate
every moment. "Phorenice, Goddess, aid us now!" some cried, and
when the prayer did not bring them instant relief, they fell to
yammering out the old confessions of the faith which they had
learned in childhood, turning in this hour of their dreadful need
to those old Gods, which, through so many dishonourable years, they
had spurned and deserted. It was a curious criticism on the
balance of their real religion, if one had cared to make it.
Louder grew the crash of falling masonry; and from the royal
pyramid itself, though indeed I could not even see its outline
through the darkness, there came sounds of grinding stones and
cracking bars of metal which told that even its superb majestic
strength had a breaking strain. There came to my mind the threat
that old Zaemon had thundered forth in that painted, perfumed
banqueting-hall: "You shall see," he had cried to the Empress,
"this royal pyramid which you have polluted with your debaucheries
torn tier from tier, and stone from stone, and scattered as
feathers spread before a wind!"
Still heavier grew the surging of the earth, and the pavement
of the great square gaped and upheaved, and the people who thronged
it screamed still more shrilly as their feet were crushed by the
grinding blocks. And now too the great pyramid itself was
commencing to split, and gape, and topple. The roofs of its
splendid chambers gave way, and the ponderous masonry above
shuttered down and filled them. In part, too, one could see the
destruction now, and not guess at it merely from the fearful
hearings of the darkness. Thunders had begun to roar through the
black night above, and add their bellowings to this devil's
orchestration of uproar, and vivid lightning splashes lit the
flying dust-clouds.
It was perhaps natural that she should be there, but it came
as a shock when a flare of the lightning showed me Phorenice safe
out in the square, and indeed standing not far from myself.
She had taken her place in the middle of a great flagstone,
and stood there swaying her supple body to the shocks. Her face
was calm, and its loveliness was untouched by the years. From time
to time she brushed away the dust as it settled on the short red
hair which curled about her neck. There was no trace of fear
written upon her face. There was some weariness, some contempt,
and I think a tinge of amusement. Yes, it took more than the
crumbling of her royal pyramid to impress Phorenice with the
infinite powers of those she warred against.
Gods! How the sight of her cool indifference maddened me
then. I had it in me to have strangled her with my hands if she
had come within my reach. But as it was, she stood in her place,
swaying easily to the earth-waves as a sailor sways on a ship's
deck, and beside her, crouched on the same great flagstone, and
overcome with nausea was Ylga, who again was raised to be her
fan-girl. It came to my mind that Ylga was twin sister to Nais,
and that I owed her for an ancient kindness, but I had leisure to
do nothing for her then, and indeed it was little enough I could
have done. With each shock the great capstone of the throne to
which I clung jarred farther and farther from its bed place, and my
love was coming nearer to me. It was she who claimed all my
service then.
Once in their blind panic a knot of the people in the square
thought that the granite stone was too solid to be overturned, and
saw in it an oasis of safety. They flocked towards it, many of
them dragging themselves up the steep deep high steps on hands and
knees because their feet had been injured by the billowing
flagstones of the square.
But I was in no mood to have the place profaned by their silly
tremblings and stares: I beat at them with my hands, tearing them
away, and hurling them back down the steepness of the steps. They
asked me what was my title to the place above their own, and I
answered them with blows and gnashing teeth. I was careless as to
what they thought me or who they thought me. Only I wished them
gone. And so they went, wailing and crying that I was a devil of
the night, for they had no spirit left to defend themselves.
Farther and farther the great stone that made the top of the
throne slid out from its bed, but its slowness of movement maddened
me. A life's education left me in that moment, and I had no trace
of stately patience left. In my puny fury I thrust at the great
block with my shoulder and head, and clawed at it with my hands
till the muscles rose on me in great ropes and knots, and the High
Gods must have laughed at my helplessness as They looked. All was
being ordered by the Three who were Their trusted servants, in
Their good time. The work of the Gods may be done slowly, but it
is done exceeding sure.
But at last, when all the people of the city were numb with
terror, and incapable of further emotion (save only for Phorenice
who still had nerve enough to show no concern), what had been
threatened came to pass. The capstone of the throne slid out till
it reached the balance, and the next shock threw it with a roar and
a clatter to the ground. And then a strange tremor seized me.
After all the scheming and effort, what I had so ardently
prayed for had come about; but yet my inwards sank at the thought
of mounting on the stone where I had mounted before, and taking my
dear from the hollow where my hands had laid her. I knew
Phorenice's vengefulness, and had a high value for her cleverness.
Had she left Nais to lie in peace, or had she stolen her away to
suffer indignities elsewhere? Or had she ended her sleep with
death, and (as a grisly jest) left the corpse for my finding? I
could not tell; I dared not guess. Never during a whole hardfighting
life have my emotions been so wrenched as they were at
that moment. And, for excuse, it must be owned that love for Nais
had sapped my hardihood over a matter in which she was so privately
It began to come to my mind, however, that the infernal uproar
of the earth tremor was beginning to slacken somewhat, as though
Zaemon knew he had done the work that he had promised, and was
minded to give the wretched city a breathing space. So I took my
fortitude in hand, and clambered up on to the flat of the stone.
The lightning flashes had ceased and all was darkness again and
stifling dust, but at any moment the sky might be lit once more,
and if I were seen in that place, shaggy and changed though I might
be, Phorenice, if she were standing near, would not be slow to
guess my name and errand.
So changed was I for the moment, that I will finely confess
that the idea of a fight was loathsome to me then. I wanted to
have my business done and get gone from the place.
With hands that shook, I fumbled over the face of the stone
and found the clamps and bars of metal still in position where I
had clenched them, and then reverently I let my fingers pass
between these, and felt the curves of my love's body in its rest
beneath. An exultation began to whirl within me. I did not know
if she had been touched since I last left her; I did not know if
the drug would have its due effect, and let her be awakened to
warmth and sight again; but, dead or alive, I had her there, and
she was mine, mine, mine, and I could have yelled aloud in my joy
at her possession.
Still the earth shook beneath us, and masonry roared and
crashed into ruin. I had to cling to my place with one hand,
whilst I unhasped the clamps of metal that made the top of her
prison with the other. But at last I swung the upper half of them
clear, and those which pinned down her feet I let remain. I
stooped and drew her soft body up on to the flat of the stone
beside me, and pressed my lips a hundred times to the face I could
not see.
Some mad thought took me, I believe, that the mere fierceness
and heat of my kisses would bring her back again to life and
wakefulness. Indeed I will own plainly, that I did but sorry
credit to my training in calmness that night. But she lay in my
arms cold and nerveless as a corpse, and by degrees my sober wits
returned to me.
This was no place for either of us. Let the earth's tremors
cease (as was plainly threatened), let daylight come, and let a few
of these nerveless people round recover from their panic, and all
the great cost that had been expended might be counted as waste.
We should be seen, and it would not be long before some one put a
name to Nais; and then it would be an easy matter to guess at
Deucalion under the beard and the shaggy hair and the browned
nakedness of the savage who attended on her. Tell of fright? By
the Gods! I was scared as the veriest trembler who blundered
amongst the dust-clouds that night when the thought came to me.
With all that ruin spread around, it would be hopeless to
think that any of those secret galleries which tunnelled under the
ground would be left unbroken, and so it was useless to try a
passage under the walls by the old means. But I had heard shouts
from that frightened mob which came to me through the din and the
darkness, that gave another idea for escape. "The city is
accursed," they had cried: "if we stay here it will fall on us.
Let us get outside the walls where there are no buildings to bury
If they went, I could not see. But one gate lay nearest to
the royal pyramid, and I judged that in their panic they would not
go farther than was needful. So I put the body of Nais over my
shoulder (to leave my right arm free) and blundered off as best I
could through the stifling darkness.
It was hard to find a direction; it was hard to walk in the
inky darkness over ground that was tossed and tumbled like a frozen
sea: and as the earth still quaked and heaved, it was hard also to
keep a footing. But if I did fall myself a score of times, my dear
burden got no bruise, and presently I got to the skirts of the
square, and found a street I knew. The most venomous part of the
shaking was done, and no more buildings fell, but enough lay
sprawled over the roadway to make walking into a climb, and the
sweat rolled from me as I laboured along my way.
There was no difficulty about passing the gate. There was no
gate. There was no wall. The Gods had driven their plough through
it, and it lay flat, and proud Atlantis stood as defenceless as the
open country. Though I knew the cause of this ruin, though, in
fact, I had myself in some measure incited it, I was almost sad at
the ruthlessness with which it had been carried out. The royal
pyramid might go, houses and palaces might be levelled, and for
these I cared little enough; but when I saw those stately ramparts
also filched away, there the soldier in me woke, and I grieved at
this humbling of the mighty city that once had been my only
But this was only a passing regret, a mere touch of the
fighting-man's pride. I had a different love now, that had wrapped
herself round me far deeper and more tightly, and my duty was
towards her first and foremost. The night would soon be past, and
then dangers would increase. None had interfered with us so far,
though many had jostled us as I clambered over the ruins; but this
forbearance could not be reckoned upon for long. The earth tremors
had almost died away, and after the panic and the storm, then comes
the time for the spoiling.
All men who were poor would try to seize what lay nearest to
their hands, and those of higher station, and any soldiers who
could be collected and still remained true to command, would
ruthlessly stop and strip any man they saw making off with plunder.
I had no mind to clash with these guardians of law and property,
and so I fled on swiftly through the night with my burden, using
the unfrequented ways; and crying to the few folk who did meet me
that the woman had the plague, and would they lend me the shelter
of their house as ours had fallen. And so in time we came to the
place where the rope dangled from the precipice, and after Nais had
been drawn up to the safety of the Sacred Mountain, I put my leg in
the loop of the rope and followed her.
Now came what was the keenest anxiety of all. We took the
girl and laid her on a bed in one of the houses, and there in the
lit room for the first time I saw her clearly. Her beauty was
drawn and pale. Her eyes were closed, but so thin and transparent
had grown the lids that one could almost see the brown of the pupil
beneath them. Her hair had grown to inordinate thickness and
length, and lay as a cushion behind and beside her head.
There was no flicker of breath; there was none of that pulsing
of the body which denotes life; but still she had not the
appearance of ordinary death. The Nais I had placed nine long
years before to rest in the hollow of the stone, was a fine grown
woman, full bosomed, and well boned. The Nais that remained for
me was half her weight. The old Nais it would have puzzled me to
carry for an hour: this was no burden to impede a grown man.
In other ways too she had altered. The nails of her fingers
had grown to such a great length that they were twisted in spirals,
and the fingers themselves and her hands were so waxy and
transparent that the bony core upon which they were built showed
itself beneath the flesh in plain dull outline. Her clay-cold lips
were so white, that one sighed to remember the full beauty of their
carmine. Her shoulders and neck had lost their comely curves, and
made bony hollows now in which the dust of entombment lodged black
and thickly.
Reverently I set about preparing those things which if all
went well should restore her. I heated water and filled a bath,
and tinctured it heavily with those essences of the life of beasts
which the Priests extract and store against times of urgent need
and sickness. I laid her chin-deep in this bath, and sat beside it
to watch, maintaining that bath at a constant blood heat.
An hour I watched; two hours I watched; three hours--and yet
she showed no flicker of life. The heat of her body given her by
the bath, was the same as the heat of my own. But in the feel of
her skin when I stroked it with my hand, there was something
lacking still. Only when our Lord the Sun rose for His day did I
break off my watching, whilst I said the necessary prayer which is
prescribed, and quickly returned again to the gloom of the house.
I was torn with anxiety, and as the time went on and still no
sign of life came back, the hope that had once been so high within
me began to sicken and leave me downcast and despondent. From
without, came the din of fighting. Already Phorenice had sent her
troops to storm the passageway, and the Priests who defended it
were shattering them with volleys of rocks. But these sounds of
war woke no pulse within me. If Nais did not wake, then the world
for me was ended, and I had no spirit left to care who remained
uppermost. The Gods in Their due time will doubtless smite me for
this impiety. But I make a confession of it here on these sheets,
having no mind to conceal any portion of this history for the small
reason that it does me a personal discredit.
But as the hours went on, and still no flicker of life came to
lessen the dumb agony that racked me, I grew more venturesome, and
added more essences to the bath, and drugs also such as experience
had shown might wake the disused tissues into life. I watched on
with staring eyes, rubbing her wasted body now and again, and
always keeping the heat of the bath at a constant. From the first
I had barred the door against all who would have come near to help
me. With my own hands I had laid my love to sleep, and I could not
bear that others should rouse her, if indeed roused she should ever
be. But after those first offers, no others came, and the snarl
and din of fighting told of what occupied them.
It is hard to take note of small changes which occur with
infinite slowness when one is all the while on the tense watch, and
high strung though my senses were, I think there must have been
some indication of returning life shown before I was keen enough to
notice it. For of a sudden, as I gazed, I saw a faint rippling on
the surface of the water of the bath. Gods! Would it come back
again to my love at last--this life, this wakefulness? The ripple
died out as it had come, and I stooped my head nearer to the bath
to try if I could see some faint heaving of her bosom some small
twitching of the limbs. No, she lay there still without even a
flutter of movement. But as I watched, surely it seemed to my
aching eyes that some tinge was beginning to warm that blank
whiteness of skin?
How I filled myself with that sight. The colour was returning
to her again beyond a doubt. Once more the dried blood was
becoming fluid and beginning again to course in its old channels.
Her hair floated out in the liquid of the bath like some brown
tangle of the ocean weed, and ever and again it twitched and eddied
to some impulse which in itself was too small for the eye to see.
She had slept for nine long years, and I knew that the
wakening could be none of the suddenest. Indeed, it came by its
own gradations and with infinite slowness, and I did not dare do
more to hasten it. Further drugs might very well stop eternally
what those which had been used already had begun. So I sat
motionless where I was, and watched the colour come back, and the
waxenness go, and even the fullness of her curves in some small
measure return. And when growing strength gave her power to endure
them, and she was racked with those pains which are inevitable to
being born back again in this fashion to life, I too felt the
reflex of her agony, and writhed in loving sympathy.
Still further, too, was I wrung by a torment of doubt as to
whether life or these rackings would in the end be conqueror.
After each paroxysm the colour ebbed back from her again, and for
a while she would lie motionless. But strength and power seemed
gradually to grow, and at last these prevailed, and drove death and
sleep beneath them. Her eyelids struggled with their fastenings.
Her lips parted, and her bosom heaved. With shivering gasps her
breath began to pant between her reddening lips. At first it
rattled dryly in her throat, but soon it softened and became more
regular. And then with a last effort her eyes, her glorious loving
eyes, slowly opened.
I leaned over and called her softly by name.
Her eyes met mine, and a glow arose from their depths that
gave me the greatest joy I have met in all the world.
"Deucalion, my love," she whispered. "Oh, my dear, so you
have come for me. How I have dreamed of you! How I have been
racked! But it was worth it all for this."
It was Nais herself who sent me to attend to my sterner
duties. The din of the attack came to us in the house where I was
tending her, and she asked its meaning. As pithily as might be,
for she was in no condition for tedious listening, I gave her the
history of her nine years' sleep.
The colour flushed more to her face. "My lord is the
properest man in all the world to be King," she whispered.
"I refused to touch the trade till they had given me the Queen
I desired, safe and alive, here upon the Mountain."
"How we poor women are made the chattels of you men! But, for
myself, I seem to like the traffic well enough. You should not
have let me stand in the way of Atlantis' good, Deucalion. Still,
it is very sweet to know you were weak there for once, and that I
was the cause of your weakness. What is that bath over yonder?
Ah! I remember; my wits seem none of the clearest just now."
"You have made the beginning. Your strength will return to
you by quick degrees. But it will not bear hurrying. You must
have a patience."
"Your ear, sir, for one moment, and then I will rest in peace.
My poor looks, are they all gone? You seem to have no mirror here.
I had visions that I should wake up wrinkled and old."
"You are as you were, dear, that first night I saw you--the
most beautiful woman in all the world."
"I am pleased you like me," she said, and took the cup of
broth I offered her. "My hair seems to have grown; but it needs
combing sadly. I had a fancy, dear, once, that you liked ruddy
hair best, and not a plain brown." She closed her eyes then, lying
back amongst the cushions where I had placed her, and dropped off
into healthy sleep, with the smiles still playing upon her lips.
I put the coverlet over her, and kissed her lightly, holding back
my beard lest it should sweep her cheek. And then I went out of
the chamber.
That beard had grown vastly disagreeable to me these last
hours, and then I went into a room in the house, and found
instruments, and shaved it down to the bare chin. A change of robe
also I found there and took it instead of my squalid rags. If a
man is in truth a king, he owes these things to the dignity of his
But, if the din of the fighting was any guide, mine was a
narrowing kingdom. Every hour it seemed to grow fiercer and more
near, and it was clear that some of the gates in the passage up the
cleft in the cliff, impregnable though all men had thought them,
had yielded to the vehemence of Phorenice's attack. And, indeed,
it was scarcely to be marvelled at. With all her genius spurred on
to fury by the blow that had been struck at her by wrecking so fair
a part of the city, the Empress would be no light adversary even
for a strong place to resist, and the Sacred Mountain was no longer
Defences of stone, cunningly planned and mightily built, it
still possessed, but these will not fight alone. They need men to
line them, and, moreover, abundance of men. For always in a storm
of this kind, some desperate fellows will spit at death and get to
hand grips, or slingers and archers slip in their shot, or the
throwing-fire gets home, or (as here) some newfangled machine like
Phorenice's fire-tubes, make one in a thousand of their wavering
darts find the life; and so, though the general attacking loses his
hundreds, the defenders also are not without their dead.
The slaughter, as it turned out, had been prodigious. As fast
as the stormers came up, the Priests who held the lowest gate
remaining to us rained down great rocks upon them till the narrow
alley of the stair was paved with their writhing dead. But
Phorenice stood on a spur of the rock below them urging on the
charges, and with an insane valour company after company marched up
to hurl themselves hopelessly against the defences. They had no
machines to batter the massive gates, and their attack was as
pathetically useless as that of a child who hammers against a wall
with an orange; and meanwhile the terrible stones from above mowed
them down remorselessly.
Company after company of the troops marched into this terrible
death-trap, and not a man of all of them ever came back. Nor was
it Phorenice's policy that they should do so. In her lust for this
final conquest, she was minded to pour out troops till she had
filled up the passes with the slain, so that at last she might
march on to a level fight over the bridge of their poor bodies. It
was no part of Phorenice's mood ever to count the cost. She set
down the object which was to be gained, and it was her policy that
the people of Atlantis were there to gain it for her.
Two gates then had she carried in this dreadful fashion,
slaughtering those Priests that stood behind, them who had not been
already shot down. And here I came down from above to take my
share in the fight. There was no trumpet to announce my coming, no
herald to proclaim my quality, but the Priests as a sheer custom
picked up "Deucalion!" as a battle-cry; and some shouted that, with
a King to lead, there would be no further ground lost.
It was clear that the name carried to the other side and bore
weight with it. A company of poor, doomed wretches who were
hurrying up stopped in their charge. The word "Deucalion!" was
bandied round and handed back down the line. I though with some
grim satisfaction, that here was evidence I was not completely
forgotten in the land.
There came shouts to them from behind to carry on their advance;
but they did not budge; and presently a glittering officer panted
up, and commenced to strike right and left amongst them with his
sword. From where I stood on the high rampart above the gate,
I could see him plainly, and recognised him at once.
"It matters not what they use for their battle-cry," he was
shouting. "You have the orders of your divine Empress, and that is
enough. You should be proud to die for her wish, you cowards. And
if you do not obey, you will die afterwards under the instruments
of the tormentors, very painfully. As for Deucalion, he is dead
any time these nine years."
"There it seems you lie, my Lord Tatho," I shouted down to
He started, and looked up at me.
"So you are there in real truth, then? Well, old comrade, I
am sorry. But it is too late to make a composition now. You are
on the side of these mangy Priests, and the Empress has made an
edict that they are to be rooted out, and I am her most obedient
"You used to be skilful of fence," I said, and indeed there
was little enough to choose between us. "If it please you to stop
this pitiful killing, make yourself the champion of your side, and
I will stand for mine, and we will fight out this quarrel in some
fair place, and bind our parties to abide by the result."
"It would be a grand fight between us two, old friend, and it
goes hard with me to balk you of it. But I cannot pleasure you.
I am general here under Phorenice, and she has given me the
strongest orders not to peril myself. And besides, though you are
a great man, Deucalion, you are not chief. You are not even one of
the Three."
"I am King."
Tatho laughed. "Few but yourself would say so, my lord."
"Few truly, but what there are, they are powerful. I was given
the name for the first time yesterday, and as a first blow in
the campaign there was some mischief done in the city. I was there
myself, and saw how you took it."
"You were in Atlantis!"
"I went for Nais. She is on the mountain now, and to-morrow
will be my Queen. Tatho, as a priest to a priest, let me solemnly
bring to your memory the infinite power you bite against on this
Sacred Mountain. Your teaching has warned you of the weapons that
are stored in the Ark of the Mysteries. If you persist in this
attack, at the best you can merely lose; at the worst you can bring
about a wreck over which even the High Gods will shudder as They
order it."
"You cannot scare us back now by words," said Tatho doggedly.
"And as for magic, it will be met by magic. Phorenice has found by
her own cleverness as many powers as were ever stored up in the Ark
of the Mysteries."
"Yet she looked on helplessly enough last night, when her
royal pyramid was trundled into a rubbish heap. Zaemon had
prophesied that this should be so, and for a witness, why I myself
stood closer to her than we two stand now, and saw her."
"I will own you took her by surprise somewhat there. I do not
understand these matters myself; I was never more than one of the
Seven in the old days; and now, quite rightly, Phorenice keeps the
knowledge of her magic to herself: but it seems time is needed when
one magic is to be met by another."
"Well," I said, "I know little about the business either. I
leave these matters now to those who are higher above me in the
priesthood. Indeed, having a liking for Nais, it seems I am
debarred from ever being given understanding about the highest of
the higher Mysteries. So I content myself with being a soldier,
and when the appointed day comes, I shall fall and kiss my mother
the Earth for the last time. You, so I am told, have ambition for
longer life."
He nodded. "Phorenice has found the Great Secret, and I am to
be the first that will share it with her. We shall be as Gods upon
the earth, seeing that Death will be powerless to touch us. And
the twin sons she has borne me, will be made immortal also."
"Phorenice is headstrong. No, my lord, there is no need to
shake your head and try to deny it. I have had some acquaintance
with her. But the order has been made, and her immortality will be
snatched from her very rudely. Now, mark solemnly my words. I,
Deucalion, have been appointed King of Atlantis by the High Council
of the Priests who are the mouthpiece of the most High Gods, and if
I do not have my reign, then there will be no Atlantis left to
carry either King or Empress. You know me, Tatho, for a man that
never lies."
He nodded.
"Then save yourself before it is too late. You shall have
again your vice-royalty in Yucatan."
"But, man, there is no Yucatan. A great horde of little hairy
creatures, that were something less than human and something more
than beasts, swept down upon our cities and ate them out. Oh, you
may sneer if you choose! Others sneered when I came home, till the
Empress stopped them. But you know what a train of driver ants is,
that you meet with in the forests? You may light fires across
their path, and they will march into them in their blind bravery,
and put them out with their bodies, and those that are left will
march on in an unbroken column, and devour all that stands in their
path. I tell you, my lord, those little hairy creatures were like
the ants--aye, for numbers, and wooden bravery, as well as for
appetite. As a result to-day, there is no Yucatan."
"You shall have Egypt, then."
He burst at me hotly. "I would not take seven Egypts and ten
Yucatans. My lord, you think more poorly of me than is kind, when
you ask me to become a traitor. In your place would you throw your
Nais away, if the doing it would save you from a danger?"
"That is different."
"In no degree. You have a kindness for her. I have all that
and more for Phorenice, who is, besides, my wife and the mother of
my children. If I have qualms--and I freely confess I know you are
desperate men up there, and have dreadful powers at your
command--my shiverings are for them and not for myself. But I
think, my lord, this parley is leading to nothing, and though these
common soldiers here will understand little enough of our talk,
they may be picking up a word here and there, and I do not wish
them to go on to their death (as you will see them do shortly) and
carry evil reports about me to whatever Gods they chance to come
He saluted me with his sword and drew back, and once more the
missiles began to fly, and the doomed wretches, who had been
halting beside the steep rock walls of the pass began once more to
press hopelessly forward. They had scaling-ladders certainly, but
they had no chance of getting these planted. They could do naught
but fill the narrow way with their bodies, and to that end they had
been sent, and to that end they humbly died. Our Priests with crow
and lever wrenched from their lodging-places the great rocks which
had been made ready, and sent them crashing down, so that once more
screams filled the pass, and the horrid butchery was renewed.
But ever and again, some arrow or some sling-stone, or some
fire-tube's dart would find its way up from below and through the
defences, and there we would be with a man the less to carry on the
fight. It was well enough for Phorenice to be lavish with her
troops; indeed, if she wished for success, there were no two ways
for it; and when those she had levied were killed, she could
readily press others into the service, seeing that she had the
whole broad face of the country under her rule. But with us it was
different. A man down on our side was a man whose arm would
bitterly be missed, and one which could in no possible way be
I made calculation of the chances, and saw clearly that, if we
continued the fight on the present plan, they would storm the gates
one after another as they came to them, and that by the time the
uppermost gate was reached, there would be no Priest alive to
defend it. And so, not disdaining to fashion myself on Phorenice's
newer plan, which held that a general should at times in preference
plot coldly from a place of some safety, and not lead the thick of
the fighting, I left those who stood to the gate with some rough
soldier's words of cheer, and withdrew again up the narrow stair of
the pass.
This one approach to the Sacred Mountain was, as I have said
before, vastly more difficult and dangerous in the olden days when
it stood as a mere bare cleft as the High Gods made it. But a
chasm had been bridged here, a shelf cut through the solid rock
there, and in many places the roadway was built up on piers from
distant crags below so as to make all uniform and easy. It came to
my mind now, that if I could destroy this path, we might gain a
breathing space for further effort.
The idea seemed good, or at least no other occurred to me
which would in any way relieve our desperate situation, and I
looked around me for means to put it into execution. Up and down,
from the mountain to the plains below, I had traversed that narrow
stair of a pass some thousands of times, and so in a manner of
speaking knew every stone, and every turn, and every cut of it by
heart. But I had never looked upon it with an eye to shaving off
all roadway to the Sacred Mountain, and so now, even in this moment
of dreadful stress, I had to traverse it no less than three times
afresh before I could decide upon the best site for demolition.
But once the point was fixed, there was little delay in getting
the scheme in movement. Already I had sent men to the storehouses
amongst the Priests' dwellings to fetch me rams, and crows, and
acids, and hammers, and such other material as was needed, and
these stood handy behind one of the upper gates. I put on
every pair of hands that could be spared to the work, no matter
what was their age and feebleness; yes, if Nais could have walked
so far I would have pressed her for the labour; and presently
carved balustrade, and wayside statue, together with the lettered
wall-stones and the foot-worn cobbles, roared down into the gulf
below, and added their din to the shrieks and yells and crashes of
the fighting. Gods! But it was a hateful task, smashing down that
splendid handiwork of the men of the past. But it was better that
it should crash down to ruin in the abyss below, than that
Phorenice should profane it with her impious sandals.
At first I had feared that it would be needful to sacrifice
the knot of brave men who were so valiantly defending the gate then
being attacked. It is disgusting to be forced into a measure of
this kind, but in hard warfare it is often needful to the carrying
out of his schemes for a general to leave a part of his troops to
fight to a finish, and without hope of rescue, as valiantly as they
may; and all he can do for their reward is to recommend them
earnestly to the care of the Gods. But when the work of destroying
the pathway was nearly completed, I saw a chance of retrieving
We had not been content merely with breaking arches, and throwing
down the piers. We had got our rams and levers under the living
rock itself on which all the whole fabric stood; and fire stood
ready to heat the rams for their work; and when the word was
given, the whole could be sent crashing down the face of the cliffs
beyond chance of repair.
All was, I say, finally prepared in this fashion, and then I
gave the word to hold. A narrow ledge still remained undestroyed,
and offered footway, and over this I crossed. The cut we had made
was immediately below the uppermost gate of all, and below it there
were three more massive gates still unviolated, besides the one
then being so vehemently attacked. Already, the garrisons had been
retired from these, and I passed through them all in turn,
unchallenged and unchecked, and came to that busy rampart where the
twelve Priests left alive worked, stripped to the waist, at heaving
down the murderous rocks.
For awhile I busied myself at their side, stopping an occasional
fire-tube dart or arrow on my shield and passing them the tidings.
The attack was growing fiercer every minute now. The enemy had
packed the pass below well-nigh full of their dead, and our
battering stones had less distance to fall and so could do less
execution. They pressed forward more eagerly than ever with their
scaling ladders, and it was plain that soon they would inevitably
put the place to the storm. Even during the short time I was
there, their sling-stones and missiles took life from three more of
the twelve who stood with me on the defence.
So I gave the word for one more furious avalanche of rock to
be pelted down, and whilst the few living were crawling out from
those killed by the discharge, and whilst the next band of
reinforcements came scrambling up over the bodies, I sent my nine
remaining men away at a run up the steep stairway of the path, and
then followed them myself. Each of the gates in turn we passed,
shutting them after us, and breaking the bars and levers with which
they were moved, and not till we were through the last did the roar
of shouts from below tell that the besiegers had found the gate
they bit against was deserted.
One by one we balanced our way across the narrow ledge which
was left where the path had been destroyed, and one poor Priest
that carried a wound grew giddy, and lost his balance here, and
toppled down to his death in the abyss below before a hand could be
stretched out to steady him. And then, when we were all over, heat
was put to the rams, and they expanded with their resistless force,
and tore the remaining ledges from their hold in the rock. I think
a pang went through us all then when we saw for ourselves the last
connecting link cut away from between the poor remaining handful of
our Sacred Clan on the Mountain, and the rest of our great nation,
who had grown so bitterly estranged to us, below.
But here at any rate was a break in the fighting. There were
no further preparations we could make for our defence, and high
though I knew Phorenice's genius to be, I did not see how she could
very well do other than accept the check and retire. So I set a
guard on the ramparts of the uppermost gate to watch all possible
movements, and gave the word to the others to go and find the rest
which so much they needed.
For myself, dutifully I tried to find Zaemon first, going on
the errand my proper self, for there was little enough of kingly
state observed on the Sacred Mountain, although the name and title
had been given me. But Zaemon was not to be come at. He was
engaged inside the Ark of the Mysteries with another of the Three,
and being myself only one of the Seven, I had not rank enough in
the priesthood to break in upon their workings. And so I was free
to turn where my likings would have led me first, and that was to
the house which sheltered Nais.
She waked as I came in over the threshold, and her eyes filled
with a welcome for me. I went across and knelt where she lay,
putting my face on the pillow beside her. She was full of tender
talk and sweet endearments. Gods! What an infinity of delight I
had missed by not knowing my Nais earlier! But she had a will of
her own through it all, and some quaint conceits which made her all
the more adorable. She rallied me on the new cleanness of my chin,
and on the robe which I had taken as a covering. She professed a
pretty awe for my kingship, and vowed that had she known of my
coming dignities she would never have dared to discover a love for
me. But about my marriage with Phorenice she spoke with less
lightness. She put out her thin white hand, and drew my face to
her lips.
"It is weak of me to have a jealousy," she murmured, "knowing
how completely my lord is mine alone; but I cannot help it. You
have said you were her husband for awhile. It gives me a pang to
think that I shall not be the first to lie in your arms,
"Then you may gaily throw your pang away," I whispered back.
"I was husband to Phorenice in mere word for how long I do not
precisely know. But in anything beyond, I was never her husband at
all. She married me by a form she prescribed herself, ignoring all
the old rites and ceremonies, and whether it would hold as legal or
not, we need not trouble to inquire. She herself has most nicely
and completely annulled that marriage as I have told you. Tatho is
her husband now, and father to her children, and he seems to have
a fondness for her which does him credit."
We said other things too in that chamber, those small repetitions
of endearments which are so precious to lovers, and so beyond the
comprehension of other folk, but they are not to be set down on
these sheets. They are a mere private matter which can have no
concern to any one beyond our two selves, and more weighty
subjects are piling themselves up in deep index for the historian.
Phorenice, it seemed, had more rage against the Priests' Clan
on the Mountain and more bright genius to help her to a vengeance
than I had credited. Her troops stormed easily the gates we had
left to them, and swarmed up till they stood where the pathway was
broken down. In the fierceness of their rush, the foremost were
thrust over the brink by those pressing up behind, before the
advance could be halted, and these went screaming to a horrid death
in the great gulf below. But it was no position here that a lavish
spending of men could take, and presently all were drawn off, save
for some half-score who stood as outpost sentries, and dodged out
of arrow-shot behind angles of the rock.
It seems, too, that the Empress herself reconnoitered the place,
using due caution and quickness, and so got for herself a full
plan of its requirements without being obliged to trust the
measuring of another eye. With extraordinary nimbleness she must
have planned an engine such as was necessary to suit her purposes,
and given orders for its making; for even with the vast force and
resources at her disposal, the speed with which it was built was
There was very little noise made to tell of what was afoot.
All the woodwork and metalwork was cut, and tongued, and forged,
and fitted first by skilled craftsmen below, in the plain at the
foot of the cleft; and when each ponderous balk and each
crosspiece, and each plank was dragged up the steep pass through
the conquered gates, it was ready instantly for fitting into its
appointed place in the completed machine.
The cleft was straight where they set about their building,
and there was no curve or spur of the cliff to hide their handiwork
from those of the Priests who watched from the ramparts above our
one remaining gate. But Phorenice had a coyness lest her engine
should be seen before it was completed, and so to screen it she
had a vast fire built at the uppermost point where the causeway was
broken off, and fed diligently with wet sedge and green wood, so
that a great smoke poured out, rising like a curtain that shut out
all view. And so though the Priests on the rampart above the gate
picked off now and again some of those who tended the fire, they
could do the besiegers no further injury, and remained up to the
last quite in ignorance of their tactics.
The passage up the cleft was in shadow during the night hours,
for, though all the crest of the Sacred Mountain was always lit
brightly by the eternal fires which made its defence on the farther
side, their glow threw no gleam down that flank where the cliff ran
sheer to the plains beneath. And so it was under cover of the
darkness that Phorenice brought up her engine into position for
Planking had been laid down for its wheels, and the wheels
themselves well greased, and it may be that she hoped to march in
upon us whilst all slept. But there was a certain creaking and
groaning of timbers, and laboured panting of men, which gave
advertisement that something was being attempted, and the alarm
was spread quietly in the hope that if a surprise had been planned,
the real surprise might be turned the other way.
A messenger came to me running, where I sat in the house at
the side of my love, and she, like the soldier's wife she was made
to be, kissed me and bade me go quickly and care for my honour, and
bring back my wounds for her to mend.
On the rampart above the gate all was silence, save for the
faint rustle of armed men, and out of the black darkness ahead, and
from the other side of the broken causeway, came the sounds of
which the messenger bad warned me.
The captain of the gate came to me and whispered: "We have
made no light till the King came, not knowing the King's will in
the matter. Is it wished I send some of the throwing-fire down
yonder, on the chance that it does some harm, and at the same time
lights up the place? Or is it willed that we wait for their
"Send the fire," I said, "or we may find that Phorenice's
brain has been one too many for us."
The captain of the gate took one of the balls in his hand, lit
the fuse, and hurled it. The horrid thing burst amongst a mass of
men who were labouring with a huge engine, sputtering them with its
deadly fire, and lighting their garments. The plan of the engine
showed itself plainly. They had built them a vast great tower,
resting on wheels at its base, so that it might by pushed forward
from behind, and slanting at its foot to allow for the steepness of
the path and leave it always upright.
It was storeyed inside, with ladders joining each floor, and
through slits in the side which faced us bowmen could cover an
attack. From its top a great bridge reared high above it, being
carried vertically till the tower was brought near enough for its
use. The bridge was hinged at the third storey of the tower, and
fastened with ropes to its extreme top; but, once the ropes were
cut, the bridge would fall, and light upon whatever came within its
swing, and be held there by the spikes with which it was studded
I saw, and inwardly felt myself conquered. The cleverness of
Phorenice had been too strong for my defence. No war-engine of
which we had command could overset the tower. The whole of its
massive timbers were hung with the wet new-stripped skins of
beasts, so that even the throwing-fire could not destroy it. What
puny means we had to impede those who pushed it forward would have
little effect. Presently it would come to the place appointed, and
the ropes would be cut, and the bridge would thunder down on the
rampart above our last gate, and the stormers would pour out to
their final success.
Well, life had loomed very pleasant for me these few days with
a warm and loving Nais once more in touch of my arms, but the High
Gods in Their infinite wisdom knew best always, and I was no rebel
to stay stiff-necked against their decision. But it is ever a
soldier's privilege, come what may, to warm over a fight, and the
most exquisitely fierce joy of all is that final fight of a man who
knows that he must die, and who lusts only to make his bed of slain
high enough to carry a due memory of his powers with those who
afterwards come to gaze upon it. I gripped my axe, and the muscles
of my arms stood out in knots at the thought of it. Would Tatho
come to give me sport? I feared not. They would send only the
common soldiers first to the storm, and I must be content to do my
killing on those.
And Nais, what of her? I had a quiet mind there. When any
spoilers came to the house where she lay, she would know that
Deucalion had been taken up to the Gods, and she would not be long
in following him. She had her dagger. No, I had no fears of being
parted long from Nais now.
A tottering old Priest came up and touched me on the shoulder.
"Well?" I said sharply, having small taste for interruption
just now.
"News has been carried to the Three, my King, of what is
"Then they will know that I stand here now, brother, to enjoy
the finest fight of my life. When it is finished I shall go to the
Gods, and be there standing behind the stars to welcome them when
presently they also arrive. They have my regrets that they are too
old and too feeble to die and look upon a fine killing themselves."
"I have commands from them, my King, to lay upon you, which I
fear you will like but slenderly. You are forbidden to find your
death here in the fighting. They have a further use for you yet."
I turned on the old man angrily enough. "I shall take no such
order, my brother. I am not going to believe it was ever given.
You must have misunderstood. If I am a man, if I am a Priest, if
I am a soldier, if I am a King, then it stands to my honour that no
enemy should pass this gate whilst yet I live. And you may go back
and throw that message at their teeth."
The old man smiled enviously. He, too, had been a keen soldier
in his day. "I told them you would not easily believe such a
message, and asked them for a sign, and they bore with me, and
gave me one. I was to give you this jewel, my King."
"How came they by that? It is a bracelet from the elbow of
"They must have stripped her of it. I did not know it came
from Nais. The word I was to bring you said that the owner of the
jewel was inside the Ark of the Mysteries, and waited you there.
The use which the Three have for you further concerns her also."
Even when I heard that, I will freely confess that my obedience
was sorely tried, and I have the less shame in setting it
down on these sheets, because I know that all true soldiers will
feel a sympathy for my plight. Indeed, the promise of the battle
was very tempting. But in the end my love for Nais prevailed, and
I gave the salutation that was needful in token that I heard the
order and obeyed it.
To the knot of Priests who were left for the defence, I turned
and made my farewells. "You will have what I shall miss, my
brothers," I said. "I envy you that fight. But, though I am King
of Atlantis, still I am only one of the Seven, and so am the
servant of the Three and must obey their order. They speak in
words the will of the most High Gods, and we must do as they
command. You will stand behind the stars before I come, and I ask
of you that you will commend me to Those you meet there. It is not
my own will that I shall not appear there by your side."
They heard my words with smiles, and very courteously saluted
me with their weapons, and there we parted. I did not see the
fight, but I know it was good, from the time which passed before
Phorenice's hordes broke out on to the crest of the Mountain. They
died hard, that last remnant of the lesser Priests of Atlantis.
With a sour enough feeling I went up to the head of the pass,
and then through the groves, and between the temples and colleges
and houses which stood on the upper slopes of the Sacred Mountain,
till I reached that boundary, beyond which in milder days it was
death for any but the privileged few to pass. But the time, it
appeared to me, was past for conventions, and, moreover, my own
temper was hot; and it is likely that I should have strode on with
little scruple if I had not been interrupted. But in the temple
which marked the boundary, there was old Zaemon waiting; and he,
with due solemnity of words, and with the whole of some ancient
ritual ordained for that purpose, sought dispensation from the High
Gods for my trespass, and would not give me way till he was through
with his ceremony.
Already Phorenice's tower and bridge were in position, for the
clash and yelling of a fight told that the small handful of Priests
on the rampart of the last gate were bartering their lives for the
highest return in dead that they could earn. They were trained
fighting men all, but old and feeble, and the odds against them
were too enormous to be stemmed for over long. In a very short
time the place would be put to the storm, and the roof of the
Sacred Mountain would be at the open mercy of the invader. If
there was any further thing to be done, it was well that it should
be set about quickly whilst peace remained. It seemed to me that
the moment for prompt action, and the time for lengthy pompous
ceremonial was done for good.
But Zaemon was minded otherwise. He led me up to the Ark of the
Mysteries, and chided my impatience, and waited till I had given it
my reverential kiss, and then he called aloud, and another old man
came out of the opening which is in the top of the Ark, and climbed
painfully down by the battens which are fixed on its sides. He was
a man I had never seen before, hoary, frail, and emaciated, and he
and Zaemon were then the only two remaining Priests who had been
raised to the highest degree known to our Clan, and who alone had
knowledge of the highest secrets and powers and mysteries.
"Look!" cried Zaemon, in his shrill old voice, and swept a
trembling finger over the shattered city, and the great spread of
sea and country which lay in view of us below. I followed his
pointing and looked, and a chill began to crawl through me. All
was plainly shown. Our Lord the Sun burned high overhead in a sky
of cloudless blue, and day shimmered in His heat. All below seemed
from that distance peaceful and warm and still, save only that the
mountains smoked more than ordinary, and some spouted fires, and
that the sea boiled with some strange disorder.
But it was the significance of the sea that troubled me most.
Far out on the distant coast it surged against the rocks in
enormous rolls of surf; and up the great estuary, at the head of
which the city of Atlantis stands, it gushed in successive waves of
enormous height which never returned. Already the lower lands on
either side were blotted out beneath tumultuous waters, the harbour
walls were drowned out of sight, and the flood was creeping up into
the lower wards of the great city itself.
"You have seen?" asked Zaemon.
"I have seen."
"You understand?"
"ln part."
"Then let me tell you all. This is the beginning, and the end
will follow swiftly. The most High Gods, that sit behind the
stars, have a limit to even Their sublime patience; and that has
been passed. The city of Atlantis, the great continent that is
beyond, and all that are in them are doomed to unutterable
destruction. Of old it was foreseen that this great wiping-out
would happen through the sins of men, and to this end the Ark of
the Mysteries was built under the direction of the Gods. No mortal
implements can so much as scratch its surface, no waves or rocks
wreck it. Inside is stored on sheets of the ancient writing all
that is known in the world of learning that is not shared by the
common people, also there is grain in a store, and sweet water in
tanks sufficient for two persons for the space of four years,
together with seeds, weapons, and all such other matters as were
deemed fit.
"Out of all this vast country it has been decreed by the High
Gods that two shall not perish. Two shall be chosen, a man and a
woman, who are fit and proper persons to carry away with them the
ancient learning to dispose of it as they see best, and afterwards
to rear up a race who shall in time build another kingdom and do
honour to our Lord the Sun and the other Gods in another place.
The woman is within the Ark already, and seated in the place
appointed for her, and though she is a daughter of mine, the burden
of her choosing is with you. For the man, the choice has fallen
upon yourself."
I was half numb with the shock of what was befalling. "I do
not know that I care to be a survivor."
"You are not asked for your wishes," said the old man. "You
are given an order from the High Gods, who know you to be Their
faithful servant."
Habit rode strong upon me. I made salutation in the required
form, and said that I heard and would obey.
"Then it remains to raise you to the sublime degree of the
Three, and if your learning is so small that you will not
understand the keys to many of the Powers, and the highest of the
Mysteries, when they are handed to you, that fault cannot be
remedied now."
Certainly the time remaining was short enough. The fight
still raged down at the gate in the pass, though it was a wonder
how the handful of Priests had held their ground so long. But the
ocean rolled in upon the land in an ever-increasing flood, and the
mountains smoked and belched forth more volleys of rock as the
weight increased on their lower parts, and presently those that
besieged the Mountain could not fail to see the fate that
threatened them. Then there would be no withholding their rush.
In their mad fury and panic they would sweep all obstruction
resistlessly before them, and those who stood in their path might
look to themselves.
But there was no hurrying Zaemon and his fellow sage. They
were without temple for the ceremony, without sacrifice or incense
to decorate it. They had but the sky for a roof to make their
echoes, and the Gods themselves for witnesses. But they went
through the work of raising me to their own degree, with all the
grand and majestic form which has gathered dignity from the ages,
and by no one sentence did they curtail it. A burning mountain
burst with a bellowing roar as the incoming waters met its fires,
but gravely they went on, in turn reciting their sentences.
Phorenice's troops broke down the last resistance, and poured in a
frenzied stream amongst the groves and temples, but still they
quavered never in the ritual.
It had been said that this ceremony is the grandest and the
most impressive of all those connected with our holy religion; and
certainly I found it so; and I speak as one intimate with all the
others. Even the tremendous circumstances which hemmed them in
could do nothing to make these frail old men forget the deference
which was due to the highest order of the Clan.
For myself, I will freely own I was less rapt. I stood there
bareheaded in the heat, a man trying to concentrate himself, and
yet torn the while by a thousand foreign emotions. The awful thing
that was happening all around compelled some of my attention. A
continent was in the very act and article of meeting with complete
destruction, and if Zaemon and the other Priest were strong enough
to give their minds wholly up to a matter parochial to the
priesthood, I was not so stoical. And moreover, I was filled with
other anxieties and thoughts concerning Nais. Yet I managed to
preserve a decent show of attention to the ceremony; making all
those responses which were required of me; and trying as well as
might be to preserve in my mind those sentences which were the keys
to power and learning, and not mere phrasings of grandeur and
But it became clear that if the ceremony of my raising did not
soon arrive at its natural end, it would be cut short presently
with something of suddenness. Phorenice's conquering legions
swarmed out on to the crest of the Mountain, and now carried full
knowledge of the dreadful thing that was come upon the country.
They were out of all control, and ran about like men distracted;
but knowing full well that the Priests would have brought this
terrible wreck to pass by virtue of the powers which were stored
within the Ark of the Mysteries, it would be their natural impulse
to pour out a final vengeance upon any of these same Priests they
could come across before it was too late.
It began to come to my mind that if the ceremony did not very
shortly terminate, the further part of the plan would stand very
small chance of completion, and I should come by my death after all
by fighting to a finish, as I had pictured to myself before. My
flickering attention saw the soldiers coming always nearer in their
frantic wanderings, and saw also the sea below rolling deeper and
deeper in upon the land.
The fires, too, which ringed in half the mountain, spurted up
to double their old height, and burned with an unceasing roar. But
for all distraction these things gave to the two old Priests who
were raising me, we might have been in the quietness of some
ancient temple, with no so much as a fly to buzz an interruption.
But at last an end came to the ceremony. "Kneel," cried Zaemon,
"and make obeisance to your mother the Earth, and swear by the
High Gods that you will never make improper use of the powers
over Her which this day you have been granted."
When I had done that, he bade me rise as a fully installed and
duly initiated member of the Three. "You will have no opportunity
to practise the workings of this degree with either of us, my
brother," said he, "for presently our other brother and I go to
stand before the Gods to deliver to Them an account of our trust,
and of how we have carried it out. But what items you remember
here and there may turn of use to you hereafter. And now we two
give you our farewells, and promise to commend you highly to the
Gods when soon we meet Them in Their place behind the stars. Climb
now into the Ark, and be ready to shut the door which guards it, if
there is any attempt by these raging people to invade that also.
Remember, my brother, it is the Gods' direct will that you and the
woman Nais go from this place living and sound, and you are
expressly forbidden to accept challenge or provocation to fight on
any pretext whatever. But as long as may be done in safety, you
may look out upon Atlantis in her death-throes. It is very fitting
that one of the only two who are sent hence alive, should carry the
full tale of what has befallen."
I went to the top of the Ark of Mysteries then, climbing there
by the battens which are fastened to the sides, and then descended
by the stair which is inside and found Nais in a little chamber
waiting for me.
"I was bidden stay here by Zaemon," she said, "who forced me
to this place by threats and also by promises that my lord would
follow. He is very ungentle, that father of mine, but I think he
has a kindness for us both, and any way he is my father and I
cannot help loving him. Is there no chance to save him from what
is going to happen?"
"He will not come into this Ark, for I asked him. It has been
ordained from the ancient time when first the Ark was built, that
when the day for its purpose came, one woman and one man should be
its only tenants, and they are here already. Zaemon's will in the
matter is not to be twisted by you or by me. He has a message to
be delivered to the Gods, and (if I know him at all), he grudges
every minute that is lost in carrying it to them."
I left her then, and went out again up the stair, and stood
once more on the roof of the Ark. On the Mountain top men still
ran about distracted, but gradually they were coming to where the
Ark rested on the highest point. For the moment, however, I passed
them lightly. The drowning of the great continent that had been
spread out below filled the eye. Ocean roared in upon it with
still more furious waves. The plains and the level lands were
foaming lakes. The great city of Atlantis had vanished eternally.
The mountains alone kept their heads above the flood, and spewed
out rocks, and steam, and boiling stone, or burst when the waters
reached them and created great whirlpools of surging sea, and
twisted trees, and bubbling mud.
In the space of a few breaths every living creature that dwelt
in the lower grounds had been smothered by the waters, save for a
few who huddled in a pair of galleys that were driven oarless
inland, over what had once been black forest and hunting land for
the beasts. And even as I watched, these also were swallowed up by
the horrid turmoil of sea, and nothing but the sea beasts, and
those of the greater lizards which can live in such outrageous
waters, could have survived even that state of the destruction.
Indeed, none but those men who had now found standing-ground on the
upper slopes of the Sacred Mountain survived, and it was plain that
their span was short, for the great mass of the continent sank
deeper and more deep every minute before our aching eyes, beneath
the boiling inrush of the seas.
But though the great mass of the soldiery were dazed and
maddened at the prospect of the overwhelming which threatened them,
there were some with a strength of mind too valiant to give any
outward show of discomposure. Presently a compact little body of
people came from out the houses and the temples, and headed
directly across the open ground towards the Ark. On the outside
marched Phorenice's personal guards with their weapons new blooded.
They had been forced to fight a way through their own fellow
soldiers. The poor demented creatures had thought it was every one
for himself now, till these guards (by their mistress's order)
proved to them that Phorenice still came first.
And in the middle of them, borne in a litter of gold and ivory
by her grotesque European slaves, rode the Empress, still calm,
still lovely, and seemingly divided in her sentiments between
contempt and amusement. Her two children lay in the litter at her
feet. On her right hand marched Tatho gorgeously apparelled, and
with a beard curled and plaited into a thousand ringlets. On the
other side, plying her industry with unruffled defence, walked
Ylga, once again fan-girl, and so still second lady in this
dwindling kingdom.
The party of them halted half a score of paces from the Ark by
Phorenice's order. "Do not go nearer to those unclean old men.
They carry a rank odour with them, and for the moment we are short
of essences to sweeten the air of their neighbourhood." She lifted
her eyebrows and looked up at me. "Truly a quiet little gathering
of old acquaintances. Why, there is Deucalion, that once I took
the flavour of and threw aside when he cloyed me."
"I have Nais here," I said, "and presently we two will be all
that are left alive of this nation."
"Nais is quite welcome to my leavings," she laughed. "I will
look down upon your country cooings when presently I go back to the
Place behind the stars from which I came. You are a very rustic
person, Deucalion. They tell me too that three or four of these
smelling old men up here have named you King. Did you swell much
with dignity? Or did you remember that there was a pretty Empress
left that would still be Empress so long as there was an Atlantis
to govern? Come, sir, find your tongue. By my face! you must have
hungered for me very madly these years we have been parted, if
new-grown ruggedness of feature is an evidence."
"Have your gibe. I do not gibe back at a woman who presently
will die."
"Bah! Deucalion, you will live behind the times. Have they
not told you that I know the Great Secret and am indeed a Goddess
now? My arts can make life run on eternally."
"Then the waters will presently test them hard," I said, but
there the talk was taken into other lips. Zaemon went forward to
the front of the litter with the Symbol of our Lord the Sun glowing
in his hand, and burst into a flow of cursing. It was hard for me
to hear his words. The roar of the waters which poured up over the
land, and beat in vast waves against the Sacred Mountain itself,
grew nearer and more loud. But the old man had his say.
Phorenice gave orders to her guards for his killing; yes,
tried even to rise from the litter and do the work herself; but
Zaemon held the Symbol to his front, and its power in that supreme
moment mastered all the arts that could be brought against it. The
majesty of the most High Gods was vindicated, and that splendid
Empress knew it and lay back sullenly amongst the cushions of her
litter, a beaten woman.
Only one person in that rigid knot of people found power to leave
the rest, and that was Ylga. She came out to the side of the
Ark, and leaned up, and cried me a farewell through the gathering
roar of the flood.
"I would I might save you and take you with us," I said.
"As for that," she said, with a gesture, "I would not come if
you asked me. I am not a woman that will take anything less than
all. But I shall meet what comes presently with the memory that
you will have me always somewhere in your recollection. I know
somewhat of men, even men of your stamp, Deucalion, and you will
never forget that you came very near to loving me once."
I think, too, she said something further, concerning Nais, but
the bellowing rush of the waters drowned all other words. A great
mist made from the stream sent up by the swamped burning mountains
stopped all accurate view, though the blaze from the fires lit it
like gold. But I had a last sight of a horde of soldiery rushing
up the slopes of the Mountain, with a scum of surge billowing at
their heels, and licking many of them back in its clutch. And then
my eye fell on old Zaemon waving to me with the Symbol to shut down
the door in the roof of the Ark.
I obeyed his last command, and went down the stair, and closed
all ingress behind me. There were bolts placed ready, and I shot
these into their sockets, and there were Nais and I alone, and cut
off from all the rest of our world that remained.
I went to the place where she lay, and put my arms tightly
around her. Without, we heard men beating desperately on the Ark
with their weapons, and some even climbed by the battens to the top
and wrenched to try and move the door from its fastenings. The end
was coming very nearly to them now, and the great crowd of them
were mad with terror.
I would have given much to have known how Phorenice fared in
that final tumult, and how she faced it. I could see her, with her
lovely face, and her wondrous eyes, and her ruddy hair curling
about her neck, and by all the Gods! I thought more of her at that
last moment than of the poor land she had conquered, and
misgoverned, and brought to this horrid destruction. There is no
denying the fascination which Phorenice carried with her.
But the end did not dally long with its coming. There was a
little surge that lifted the Ark a hand's breadth or so in its
cradle, and set it back again with a jar and a quiver. The blows
from axes and weapons ceased on its lower part, but redoubled into
frenzied batterings on its rounded roof. There were some screams
and cries also which came to us but dully through the thickness of
its ponderous sheathing, though likely enough they were sent forth
at the full pitch of human lungs outside. And when another surge
came, roaring and thundering, which picked up the great vessel as
though it had been a feather, and spun it giddily; and after that
we touched earth or rock no more.
We tossed about on the crest and troughs of delirious seas, a
sport for the greedy Gods of the ocean. The lamp had fallen, and
we crouched there in darkness, dully weighed with the burden of
knowledge that we alone were saved out of what was yesterday a
mighty nation.
The Ark was rudderless, oarless, and machineless, and could
travel only where the High Gods chose. The inside was dark, and
full of an ancient smell, and crowded with groanings and noise. I
could not find the fire-box to relight the fallen lamp, and so we
had to endure blindly what was dealt out to us. The waves tossed
us in merciless sport, and I clung on by the side of Nais, holding
her to the bed. We did not speak much, but there was full
companionship in our bereavement and our silence.
When Atlantis sank to form new ocean bed, she left great
whirlpools and spoutings from her drowned fires as a fleeting
legacy to the Gods of the Sea. And then, I think (though in the
black belly of the Ark we could not see these things), a vast
hurricane of wind must have come on next so as to leave no piece
of the desolation incomplete. For seven nights and seven days did
this dreadful turmoil continue, as counted for us afterwards by the
reckoner of hours which hung within the Ark, and then the howling
of the wind departed, and only the roll of a long still swell
remained. It was regular and it was oily, as I could tell by the
difference of the motion, and then for the first time I dared to go
up the stair, and open the door which stood in the roof of the Ark.
The sweet air came gushing down to freshen the foulness within,
and as the Ark rode dryly over the seas, I went below and brought
up Nais to gain refreshment from the curing rays of our Lord the
Sun. Duly the pair of us adored Him, and gave thanks for His
great mercy in coming to light another day, and then we laid
ourselves down where we were to doze, and take that easy rest which
we so urgently needed.
Yet, though I was tired beyond words, for long enough sleep
would not visit me. Wearily I stared out over the oily sunlit
waters. No blur of land met the eye. The ring of ocean was
unbroken on every side, and overhead the vault of heaven remained
unchanged. The bosom of the deep was littered with the poor
wreckage of Atlantis, to remind one, if there had been a need, that
what had come about was fact, and not some horrid dream. Trees,
squared timber, a smashed and upturned boat of hides, and here and
there the rounded corpse of a man or beast shouldered over the
swells, and kept convoy with our Ark as she drifted on in charge of
the Gods and the current.
But sleep came to me at last, and I dropped off into
unconsciousness, holding the hand of Nais in mine, and when next I
woke, I found her open-eyed also and watching me tenderly. We were
finely rested, both of us, and rest and strength bring one
complacency. We were more ready now to accept the station which
the High Gods had made for us without repining, and so we went
below again into the belly of the Ark to eat and drink and maintain
strength for the new life which lay before us.
A wonderful vessel was this Ark, now we were able to see it at
leisure and intimately. Although for the first time now in all its
centuries of life it swam upon the waters, it showed no leak or
suncrack. Inside, even its floor was bone dry. That it was built
from some wood, one could see by the grainings, but nowhere could
one find suture or joint. The living timbers had been put in place
and then grown together by an art which we have lost to-day, but
which the Ancients knew with much perfection; and afterwards some
treatment, which is also a secret of those forgotten builders, had
made the wood as hard as metal and impervious to all attacks of the
In the gloomy cave of its belly were stored many matters. At
one end, in great tanks on either side of central alley, was a
prodigious store of grain. Sweet water was in other tanks at the
other end. In another place were drugs and samples, and essences
of the life of beasts; all these things being for use whilst the
Ark roamed under the guidance of the Gods on the bosom of the deep.
On all the walls of the Ark, and on all the partitions of the tanks
and the other woodwork, there were carved in the rude art of bygone
time representations of all the beasts which lived in Atlantis; and
on these I looked with a hunter's interest, as some of them were
strange to me, and had died out with the men who had perpetuated
them in these sculptures. There was a good store of weapons too
and the tools for handicrafts.
Now, for many weeks, our life endured in this Ark as the Gods
drove it about here and there across the face of the waters. We
had no government over direction; we could not by so much as a
hair's breadth a day increase her speed. The High Gods that had
chosen the two of us to be the only ones saved out of all Atlantis,
had sole control of our fate, and into Their hands we cheerfully
resigned our future direction.
Of that land which we reached in due time, and where we made
our abiding place, and where our children were born, I shall tell
of in its place; but since this chronicle has proceeded so far in
an exact order of the events as they came to pass, it is necessary
first to narrate how we came by the sheets on which it is written.
In a great coffer, in the centre of the Ark's floor, the whole
of the Mysteries learned during the study of ages were set down in
accurate writing. I read through some of them during the days
which passed, and the awfulness of the Powers over which they gave
control appalled me. I had seen some of these Powers set loose in
Atlantis, and was a witness of her destruction. But here were
Powers far higher than those; here was the great Secret of Life and
Death which Phorenice also had found, and for which she had been
destroyed; and there were other things also of which I cannot even
bring my stylo to scribe.
The thought of being custodian of these writings was more than
I could endure, and the more the matter rested in my mind, the more
intolerable became the burden. And at last I took hot irons, and
with them seared the wax on the sheets till every letter of the old
writings was obliterated. If I did wrong, the High Gods in Their
infinite justice will give me punishment; if it is well that these
great secrets should endure on earth, They in their infinite power
will dictate them afresh to some fitting scribes; but I destroyed
them there as the Ark swayed with us over the waves; and later,
when we came to land, I rewrote upon the sheets the matters which
led to great Atlantis being dragged to her death-throes.
Nais, that I love so tenderly--
[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The remaining sheets are too broken
to be legible.]

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